Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 30, 2017)
Since at least the 1980s, Hollywood has painted Spring Break as a time for drunken debauchery and sexual antics. This didn’t hold true in prior decades, a fact demonstrated by 1960’s Where the Boys Are, the granddaddy of all Spring Break films.
Merritt (Dolores Hart), Tuggie (Paula Prentiss), Melanie (Yvette Mimieux) and Angie (Connie Francis) all attend Midwestern-based Penmore University. They decide to travel south and spend their Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“Nice girls” one and all, the Penmore students plan to live it up during their vacation. Crucial to their pleasure? Boys, of course, so the ladies all attempt to find their perfect Spring Break romances – though they enjoy a mix of motives.
That’s what we call a thin plot, but no one expects Shakespeare from a light ‘n’ frothy flick like Boys. Viewers seek a little comedy and romance – nothing too taxing, please.
Does Boys manage to deliver those pleasures? Sure, maybe, sort of – the movie throws out minor diversions that make it go down smoothly.
It’s also enjoyable to view for nostalgic reasons – if one can be “nostalgic” for an era that occurred before one’s birth. Truthfully, I don’t wish I’d lived in the film’s period, but I still like the “slice of life” it offers – a mostly idealized “slice of life”, sure, but it still gives us a view of society circa 1960.
Of course, Boys can’t offer a particularly realistic take on Spring Break due to censorship issues. Sure, the “Hays Code” was in serious decline by 1960, but this still wasn’t an era in which a movie like Boys could offer a blunt view of the party culture.
Because of this, we get slippery references to sex. One character discusses whether she’d “play house before marriage”, and the question of whether or not they’re “good girls” arises.
With all these restrictions, Boys may emphasize sex but it remains subtext more than anything else, and that’s fine. The film seems contrived and artificial, but that doesn’t make it a bad experience.
All that said, I can’t claim that Boys offers a whole lot of pleasure beyond its status as a period piece. While I think it presents passable entertainment, it can’t bust free and give us anything particularly memorable.
Much of that stems from the monotone nature of the characters. Boys throws out simplistic personalities for our four leads and doesn’t allow them to expand much from there.
Admittedly, with a running time under 100 minutes, one can’t expect a lot of true depth or development – especially since the movie needs to explore plenty of secondary roles as well. We may find cardboard characters, but they fulfill their goals in an acceptable manner.
I can’t claim any of the actors bring much life to their parts, but I do appreciate the fact Boys casts actual college-aged performers most of the time. All of the four lead females were 22 or under during the production – a few of the boys they get to know push boundaries, but we still wind up with a largely age-appropriate cast, a rarity in this sort of production.
Boys does stretch itself a little when it strongly implies the rape of a character. On one hand, I respect this decision, but on the other, it seems out of place in a flick sort of this.
Boys feels more like a perky romp than something that actively digs into sexual abuse issues, and the movie doesn’t follow up the dramatic issues well. The rape sequence comes out of nowhere and feels like part of an entirely different movie.
Am I happy I watched Where the Boys Are? Sure – it’s a classic of sorts within its genre. Do I think it offers a memorable film? Not really – it gives us a watchable romantic comedy but it lacks real substance.