XIPHOS AND the QUICK AND DIRTY HIT #5: THE FLAMINGO KID
Pardon me for hijacking my own series here but for the next bunch of these Quick and Dirty Hits I’m doing I will be reviewing movies that were important in forming the unfocused mind of a young Xiphos. I won’t be doing this in any way approaching any sort of order, just how they occur to me. For instance we are starting with the overlooked and almost forgotten underrated classic coming of age tale from 1984, The Flamingo Kid starring Matt Dillon The next installment, I think, is going to be the Burt Reynolds/Hal Needham stuntman movie from 1978, Hooper. See different genre, different decades.
I used to own this video tape and wore it out because I liked this movie so much. For years it was my ‘go to’ comfort tape, I threw it in as background noise when I was bored, when the weather was bad, late at night when I was still drunk and trying not puke and the bed was spinning too hard to even pass out on. In short, I like the movie, oddly though, after I lost my video tape I never replaced it and haven’t thought about the movie in a long, long time. That is until a few days ago at dinner when I was talking to a semi cool (for an MP) chick Marine Staff Sergeant about Entourage and specifically Johnny Drama, played by Matt Dillon’s younger brother. I started thinking how I haven’t seen Matt Dillon in anything in a long time so I went to IMDB to look at what he’s been up to lately.
As I was looking at his page it struck me that Dillon had, in the 1980’s, one of the strongest runs of excellence as an actor that I think I have ever seen. Starting with his debut in 1979 with Over The Edge to 1989’s Drug Store Cowboy, Dillon never turned in one bad or unbelievable performance even when he was in cruddy movies. During that run he deflowered Kristy McNichol in Little Darlings, got his ass kicked by Adam Baldwin in My Bodyguard (soon to be reviewed), was absolutely perfect in three S.E. Hinton book adaptations and robbed pharmacy’s and boned Kelly Lynch in Drug Store Cowboys. As I was looking over Dillon’s impressive run, I began feeling nostalgic about what is arguably Dillon’s best role The Flamingo Kid.
The Flamingo Kid is a sweet, simple but elegantly told coming of age story set in 1963 Long Island, New York. The story mostly takes place at a posh summer beach club called The Flamingo where Dillon’s character, Jeffery Willis, gets a job much to the chagrin of his hard working plumber father, Arthur Willis, played by the excellent and underrated Hector Elizondo. Jeffery is a good kid and blessed with some mathematical ability. He is the first member of his extended working class family to get accepted to college to study engineering starting in the fall. Arthur is a proud working man and is determined to teach his son the value of hard work and doing a good job. To this end he has arranged with the Brooklyn Union Hall, were he works, for Jeffery to be a plumbers assistant for the summer. Jeffery has other ideas though because he’s made some rich friends from playing cards and due to his math gifts, has won at a lot. The rich kids told him about the money he could make and the hot girls he could meet, two things any 18 year old kid would kill for, if he got a job at their swanky beach club out on Long Island, so Jeffery defies his father for the first time and gets a job as a cabana boy at the Flamingo.
The job is an eye opener for Jeffery since club life is 180 degrees the other direction from his working class Brooklyn neighborhood. It’s the first time in Jeffery’s life he can see there is a different world past the one preached by his father. It also doesn’t hurt that he starts to make some serious money (due to his work ethic) from tips and cards, nearly as much as his father makes. Plus there are hot girls all over the place, like Janet Jones (nice pull 99!) which he manages to somehow land. Jeffery is having the time of his life. While working at the club Jeffery meets the other formative force in his young life, Phil Brody, played to perfection by Col. Trautmen himself, the most excellent Richard Crenna. Brody might just be one of Crenna’s finest roles. Brody is everything that Jeffery’s father isn’t which leads to the eventual tug of war between the two over the heart, mind, soul and future of Jeffery. Brody is a highly successful car salesman that married into money. Brody is brash, venal, the center of attention sort of guy who is glib, slick and all surface with no depth. To a working man like Arthur, Phil Brody represents everything that is wrong with not actually working for a living. It also doesn’t help that Brody came from the same background as Arthur and Jeffery. The other thing that really captures Jeffery’s fancy is that Brody is almost preternaturally gifted at playing Gin Rummy in the high stakes all summer long game, which is a major plot point of the movie. Jeffery gets blinded by Phil, his money, his lifestyle, card skill and most importantly his niece Carla Sampson played by Janet Jones. Fireworks erupt between Jeffery and Arthur culminating in Jeffery moving out of the apartment and telling his old man that he is going to work for Phil Brody and not going to school in the fall.
It’s at that point that Jeffery also starts to figure out that Phil is a complete and utter tool, a liar and a scumbag as a human being and figures out a way to serve a nice hot steaming bowl of comeuppance to Ol’ Phil. There, that’s the story in broad strokes.
This movie is supremely well written and directed by Gary Marshall. Marshall found a story template and ideas that he will use over and over again in future movies most notably in Pretty Woman. DON’T let that turn you off to The Flamingo Kid! The movie is great, the acting superb, the story compelling, often funny, insightful, poignant and very watchable. The movie wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve without being cloying or schmaltzy. It is unabashedly and apologetically straight forward and since it was made in 1984, lacks entirely any sense of post modern horseshit and it’s totally free of irony, which is quite refreshing.
I can’t recommend this movie enough. If you have not seen it give it look or if it’s been awhile, give it another spin. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised just how well crafted The Flamingo Kid is.