The Flamingo Kid July 6, 2017
That character is Jeffrey Willis (Matt Dillon), a New York City native who, despite his Tiger Beat good looks, is bound to have most men reminiscing about their teenage years, years in which the future was equal parts exciting and terrifying. Dillon embodies that anxiety perfectly: he’s a generally confident young man, but you can always sense uncertainty behind his pretty boy eyes.
Willis hails from a middle-class Brooklyn family, with nearly all members set on him sticking around the area and taking up a humble minimum wage job for the summer and then going to college in the fall. His father (Hector Elizondo) is particularly intent on having his son learn the meaning of hard work to better prepare him for the real world. But Willis finds himself wanting something more out of life. So when the opportunity to work as a valet for a nearby country club arises, he takes the chance. The elder Willis does not approve, and this strains the father/son relationship.
But the private club turns out to be something of a dream job for an 18-year-old. The money is great (given the high tips passed out like candy by the loaded guests), the girls are beautiful, and the prospects are good. Being surrounded by wealth so consistently is a surefire way to find yourself a victim of the mentality that you can do anything and hardly have to try. It helps that Willis captures the eye of Phil Brody (Richard Crenna), the Gin rummy card maestro at the resort who decides early on that he could make something out of the teen. Before long has Willis come to the conclusion that he doesn’t need any higher education after all. And that, of course, poses risk to his future.
Like a lot of Marshall movies, the overarching storyline of the movie is shaky. Remember how in Overboard (1987) a man convinces an amnesiac woman that she is his wife in order for her to essentially become his slave to make up for the wrongs she did to him in the past? Or how in Pretty Woman (1990) a man decides that the hooker he spends the night with actually might be the woman of his dreams?
The Flamingo Kid operates in a similar fashion — it concludes that your father is always correct, and that working a well-paying but relatively meaningless job isn’t as respectable as you might be believing. And that makes it less than universal, considering that not all father figures are as wizened as Willis’ and that there isn’t anything wrong with working a low-skill occupation as long as you find it suits you well and meets your needs.
But Marshall isn’t too flagrant about it, and Dillon is too charming to make us do anything besides involve ourselves with the material in lieu of our skepticism. The Flamingo Kid is a teen movie smarter than your average example, though it remains slightly, and, in a way, inexplicably, more shallow. Take this or take John Hughes — in both you’ll find coming-of-age staples but in only one you’ll find characters who seem to be less extensions of Garry Marshall as a young man and more people of the everyday. C+
1 Hr., 40 Mins.
arry Marshall’s The Flamingo Kid (1984) captures those first few moments after high school graduation effectively: its leading character, freshly 18, now feels liberated since he’s finally free from the shackles of his long-winded school days. But he’s also confused about where life is going to take him next — he’s not so sure he wants to go to college, but he also isn’t so sure he’s willing to stick around and suffer through a meager job that pays little.