Tune in Tonight: "Summer Girl"
In addition to dance schools, sextuplets, old fashioned romance, the state of New Jersey, and basic human decency, another thing reality television ruined is the trashy made for TV movie. Oh sure, Lifetime still serves up some piping hot slop every now and then, but the golden age was on network TV in the 80s, when movies existed with such titles as The Hustler of Muscle Beach, The Making of a Male Model, and Beverly Hills Madam.
Despite its innocuous title, 1983's Summer Girl is some premium gar-bahge. A cautionary tale about why you should only hire ugly old women to watch your children, Summer Girl is about Gavin and Mary Shelburn, and their disastrous decision to take on some extra help at their beach house, which they’ve rented for some much needed family time. Their marriage is strained due to financial issues and an unexpected, complicated pregnancy, which Mary (Kim Darby) is clearly more excited about than Gavin. In fact, Gavin (Barry Bostwick) almost immediately comes off as a selfish jerk, complaining about how “trapped” he feels in the situation, even though it’s Mary who’s stuck at home all day with their two school-age children.
It’s a situation just waiting to be complicated by a ripe young babe, and they don’t get much riper than Cinni, whom Mary, ordered by her obstetrician to get some rest, hires as a babysitter. Cinni is played by Diane Franklin, whom you’ll recognize as Monique in Better Off Dead, and possibly the love interest in The Last American Virgin, which I’ve previously noted as being the bleakest teen sex comedy of all time. Fans of godawful B-horror might also know her from Amityville II: the Possession, playing a character who’s disturbingly eager to strip naked and have sex with her older brother. That’s only slightly creepier than what happens in Summer Girl.
Initially dressed like a 19th century schoolmarm in a high-necked blouse and horn-rimmed glasses, Cinni swoons at the mere sight of super DILF Gavin in a photograph, and tells Mary, in what can only be a veiled threat, that she’s “very determined if I put my mind to it.” Mary decides to hire her anyway. Moments later, Cinni hallucinates a young woman named Louisa, her best friend with whom she evidently fought over the affections of a man. We later learn that Louisa is dead, killed in a “stupid accident.” At this point you can easily turn the movie off and say you watched the whole thing, because Samuel Morse couldn’t telegraph a plot this clearly.
When Gavin, Mary, and family arrive to pick up Cinni and drive to the beach house, Cinni has lost the Mormon housewife look, all woman and ready to party in a clingy sundress that leaves nothing to the imagination. “Didn’t you tell me she was on the plain side?” Gavin asks, to which Mary replies, looking a little ill, “She was.”
It’s literally not even a minute into the car ride before Gavin is checking out Cinni in the rear-view mirror, with piano and sax music fit for a Harvey’s Bristol Cream commercial playing on the soundtrack. In fact, every man Cinni encounters behaves like a Tex Avery wolf in her presence, and even women, including Gavin’s mother, remark upon her “hot little body.” While Mary, who doesn’t even look pregnant, wears what appears to be bed sheets fashioned into crude, shapeless jumpers, Cinni’s clothes get hilariously smaller and smaller. One expects by the end of the movie that she’ll be wearing nothing but three carefully placed eye patches.
From the minute they arrive at the beach house, Cinni sets about putting herself in charge, with a cold, Machiavellian efficiency not often found in high school students. First, she works on Gavin, who just needs to have his fading youth and masculinity appealed to before he’s rendered a slobbering heap at her feet. The very first night, Gavin, speaking in the sulky, petulant tone of someone a decade younger, tells Mary that he’s chafing against the responsibility of marriage and fatherhood, and that he’s still a “kid at heart” who’s looking for a good time. This is after he and nubile sexpot Cinni have spent much of the day eye-fucking each other, which does not go unnoticed by Mary, and yet she doesn’t immediately shut down this veritable red flag factory, firing Cinni and taking the kids home.
Next, Cinni goes to work on the kids. Despite being occasionally neglectful and even cruel to them, all it takes is playing a few games and telling a 30 second fairy tale about her “secret island” for the kids to swear allegiance to Cinni, refusing to leave her side and acting like disrespectful brats to Mary, their own perfectly nice mother. This whole family is a bunch of gullible dingbats, and one wonders if the financial problems Mary and Gavin argue about at the beginning of the movie come from investing in Amway products, or trying to claim a Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes prize.
As for Mary, Cinni gives her the old gaslighting treatment, messing around with the water heater, misplacing her keys, and throwing away one of the kids’ bathing suits. It would be easier to feel sorry for what Mary is going through if she wasn’t a gigantic wimp. Nevertheless, she’s such a wet rag that even when Cinni disappears for three hours with the kids and a never mentioned older boyfriend (whom Cinni stole away from his wife, in case you didn’t already get that she’s a bit of a manipulative whorebag), she can barely raise her voice in dismay.
When Mary airs her grievances to Gavin about Cinni’s behavior, his only response is “What boyfriend?” with a pout that says “She was supposed to be my piece of underage ass.” Later, when they catch Cinni and her boyfriend making out at the house, it’s clear Gavin isn’t so much angry about her ignoring the kids in favor of fooling around as he is jealous that someone else is getting into her impossibly short shorts instead of him.
He won’t have to be jealous for long, though–in a scene with some great use of a mannequin and looped in scream, Cinni pushes her boyfriend off a cliff! After she musters up some phony looking tears, Gavin, who in addition to being incredibly gullible, is also super gross, finds a “grieving” Cinni even more alluring, and takes a moonlight stroll with her on the beach. She literally uses the “you look tense, let me give you a massage” trick on him, which takes about twenty seconds before they’re rolling around in the sand.
Though Gavin later insists to Cinni that they can’t sleep together again, when Mary finally demands that they get rid of her, he protests. “We hired her for the whole summer, it isn’t fair!” he says, as if she’s a union plumber on contract instead of a 17 year-old babysitter. After another day or two of dithering over it, Mary decides to just fire Cinni herself, and she doesn’t take it well. Despite Cinni’s anger, and Mary’s (correct) belief that Cinni is trying to steal her family away by any means necessary, Mary still takes a cup of coffee from her, which–surprise!–has been drugged. Mary falls asleep on the beach, and when she wakes up, she finds Cinni and the children gone. Cinni tells the kids that she’s taking them to her “special island,” where “we’ll offer a sacrifice.” The kids look dubious.
Police, along with Gavin and Mary, spot Cinni with the kids in a raft, rowing out towards the horizon. When Gavin swims after them, Cinni shoves the kids out of the raft, but he arrives just in time to save the day. Cinni is arrested, claiming that she took the children to protect them from their abusive mother. While most mothers would attack Cinni at a level that can only be described as “Tasmanian Devil-esque,” Mary, a quivering, useless pile of Jell-O to the very end, just looks mildly annoyed and slaps her. She doesn’t even demand an apology from Gavin, cutting him off with “You don’t have to say anything.” “Sometimes I forget how lucky we are…to have each other,” Gavin tells her. You’re darn tootin’, Gavin! Golly, I’m glad it only took the teenage nutcase you banged behind your wife’s back kidnapping and nearly murdering your children for you to realize the importance of family.
I tell ya, folks,they just don’t make ‘em like this anymore. There’s not a single minute in Summer Girl that isn’t at least slightly sleazy, and the fact that it’s played straight makes it even more riotously entertaining. Diane Franklin’s performance mostly consists of smug smirks, sultry gazes, and murderous glares, and her saccharine Mary Poppins in hot pants act at the beginning fools no one–except, of course, every single character in the movie.
Like the similar Fatal Attraction, released four years later, the audience is expected to reserve a considerable amount of sympathy for the male protagonist, who just can’t resist the lure of crazy pussy being all but shoved in his face. Also like Fatal Attraction, that sympathy is a bit hard to come by. Gavin’s protests as Cinni mauls him on the beach are so laughably weak you’d think she was offering him a slice of cheesecake after a Weight Watchers meeting, as opposed to illicit sex with a girl young enough to be his daughter. He’s not a good guy caught up in a situation he can’t control, he’s a selfish, immature jerk just waiting for the opportunity to cheat on his passive, milksop wife. Boo, Gavin, booooooo.
Just three years later, Barry Bostwick would again play a handsomely aging, unhappily married man who gets involved with the young stuff, to slightly less wacky but no less unpleasant results, in Betrayed by Innocence, released on VHS as Jailbait: Betrayed by Innocence, in case it wasn’t quite clear what the movie was about. That and Summer Girl would make an excellent double feature–though you might need a shower afterward.
Original airdate: April 12, 1983