Matt Dillon Stars in Quintessential Garry Marshall
DIRECTOR: GARRY MARSHALL/1984
STREET DATE: OCTOBER 10, 2017/KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
It’s 4th of July Weekend in 1963 Brooklyn, and Jeffrey Willis swelters on the street corner. Since it’s too hot to do anything, he doesn’t need convincing to abandon the block for a game of gin at the exclusive Flamingo Club on Long Island. By sunset, he has a job parking cars, a romantic interest, and a new plan for the summer. Jeffrey’s ready to make money, set to gamble it all, and going to be…a legend in his own neighborhood?
Well, at least the tagline of the movie insists he becomes a legend in his own neighborhood, but I can’t be sure what that means. Jeffrey’s (Matt Dillon) new swanky pastimes don’t impress his father (Hector Elizondo) back in Brooklyn, who would rather him focus on getting into college. No one on Long Island is ready to claim him as one of their own, though he warms up to the elite Brodys, including suave gin master Phil (Richard Crenna), Lucille Bluth-lite Phyllis (Jessica Walter), and their friendly niece Carla (Janet Jones). Even as a lifelong Midwesterner, I know Jeffrey hasn’t earned legend status in either New York neighborhood.
Marshall was a master of voice and controlling style down to the moment, and his fingerprints are all over this one.
Director Garry Marshall was two decades into his television career in 1984, but The Flamingo Kid was only his second feature film. Perhaps that’s why the plot is a little slow and the story beats familiar. It’s hard not to think about the summer adventures of The Sandlot gang while watching this one—they even share songs on their soundtracks—but the difference is that even when The Sandlot meanders, it’s still moving.
The Flamingo Kid may not be Garry Marshall’s best movie, but it’s quintessentially his. (Except for those leering shots of women’s legs and backsides at the country club, which feel decidedly not Garry Marshall.) You can see the family drama he put at the heart of Raising Helen, the class issues central to Pretty Woman, and the quirky character moments that color The Princess Diaries. Most importantly, the well-defined characters feel lived in, and the film never questions their humanity.
In an interview with Variety after Marshall’s death last year, Elizondo said, “Garry Marshall didn’t say funny things. He said things funny. He had a way of looking at the world. A unique Garry sound,” which is why he makes watching stock stories like Flamingo fun. When Jeffrey awkwardly dries the sink after using the restroom in the Brodys’ mansion, it’s a weird but wonderful way to show how uncomfortable he feels. When he and his father both hum while eating, Marshall cues us to find the similarities between father and son even when they can’t stand each other. Marshall was a master of voice and controlling style down to the moment, and his fingerprints are all over this one.