It was 1963 when American International Pictures first took us to the beach with Frankie and Annette in “Beach Party.” You had the surf, the sand, music and bikinis. It was a fun romp at the beach. My how things changed in a mere 16 years. That was when AIP unleashed a real downer of a beach movie…1979’s “California Dreaming.”
The film concerns an awkward guy from Chicago called TT (Dennis Christopher). He has come to the west coast to fulfill the wish of his, now dead, trumpet player brother. That being to play his tunes with a view of the ocean. Playing a recording of his brother while in view of the ocean will have to suffice. So, he ends up visiting a beach front bar to play his brother’s tunes and makes an immediate connection with the owner, Duke (Seymour Cassel).
Duke ends up inviting TT to bunk at his place. This doesn’t thrill Duke’s beach bunny daughter, Corky (Glynnis O’Connor). Of course, TT begins to become somewhat interested in Corky. I suppose it’s inevitable when she inadvertently takes her top off in front of him one morning.
From here, the film ends up following several different stories, some of which have very little to do with each other. The primary story follows TT as he tries to fit in with the beach crowd and win the affection of Corky. He first tries to follow Duke’s advice to learn to be a beach volleyball player…they get all the chicks. But soon, TT realizes that the surfers are the guys who he wants to hang with. He soon takes up with the likes of Rick (John Calvin) and Mike (Jimmy Van Patten) who try to teach him to ride the wild surf.
Other stories include Duke working on a boat that he plans on sailing to Hawaii and trying to patch things up with his ex-wife, Fay (Dorothy Tristan). There are also stories involving the surfer guys as they deal with growing up and the prospects of marriage and career. There’s another side story involving Rick, who has trouble staying faithful to his girlfriend Stephanie (Tanya Roberts), who desperately wants him to join her family on a Hawaiian trip. As if that wasn’t enough, almost completely disconnected from all this is a story involving a local mechanic (Ned Wynn) who makes a bet that he can live in his car until Labor Day in order to win a fancy car from a rich jerk (Todd Susman) who is trying to steal his girlfriend.
So, as you can see, the movie has a lot going on, unfortunately none of it really goes anywhere. The film just drifts from story to story. It’s little wonder that none of the characters really develop much. It’s a shame too, since the TT and Corky love story really does have some potential. Midwest kid comes to Cali, tries to impress the beautiful daughter of the kindly bartender he’s staying with…it could’ve worked. Plus, the two leads, Christopher and O’Connor are certainly likeable enough. They just aren’t really given much time to develop.
The major mistake the film makes is that it leaves out the part that AIP’s beach party films of the 60’s had extra of…fun! The beach is supposed to be a fun place, right? But this movie really gets way too bogged down in trying to be a deep and meaningful coming of age story. It’s ok to be serious, but all the life is just sucked out of this one…and that’s even before the kick-you-in-the-gut downer of an ending.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that “California Dreaming” is a downer of film. I mean, the Mama’s and the Papas song of the same name isn’t exactly cheery. Still this film could’ve benefited from a little Frankie and Annette style fun.