Summer Lovers

Summer Lovers is a breezy beach movie that seems tailor-made for guys who are trying to talk their girlfriends into participating in a menage a trois. It makes an enthusiastic case for the potential benefits of such a relationship while mostly ignoring the more practical complications of making such an arrangement work. In short: lots of sex, very little jealousy. Just as you raise your hand to object, the film serves up a giddy sun/sand/fun montage underscored by The Pointer Sisters' “I'm So Excited.” It's a dopey adolescent fantasy, but so are most beach movies.

The story – what little of it we get, anyway – involves a young American couple who have decided to vacation on a small Greek island for the summer. Michael (Peter Gallagher, The O.C.) and Cathy (Daryl Hannah, Blade Runner) are happy together, but in recent days, Michael has been looking for ways to spice up their relationship. After a brief fling with S&M fails to do the trick, Michael suggests that they could try an open relationship for a little while.

“Why?” Cathy asks.
“More variety,” Michael shrugs.

Cathy reluctantly agrees to this proposal, and they wander off in search of new sexual partners for the evening. Cathy can't work up the nerve to hook up with a stranger, but Michael ends up spending a passionate night with a French archaeologist named Lina (Valerie Quennessen, Conan the Barbarian). Cathy wants to call the whole thing off, but then something funny happens: she meets Lina, and discovers that she actually likes her quite a bit. So, the two women agree to share Michael, and it doesn't take long before they all decide to move in together and start sharing the same bed.

It's not much of a story, but then, the story isn't really the film's selling point. Summer Lovers only has a plot to give viewers an excuse to spend 100 minutes looking at attractive young bodies and listening to the hottest pop jams of 1982. I'd guess that at least half of the film's running time is filled by sun-kissed montages, as our stars – usually missing most or all of their clothes – frolic on the beach to the strains of tunes from Depeche Mode, Elton John, Prince, Tina Turner, Chicago and others. When the plot kicks back into gear, the songs are replaced by a Vangelis-esque score by Basil Poledouris, as meandering electronic melodies underscore oh-so-shallow moments of soul-searching.

The film was directed by Randal Kleiser, whose career arc is a strange and unpredictable one: he began as a TV journeyman, had a huge hit with Grease (his big-screen debut), turned to nudity-filled island romance for a while (Summer Lovers was preceded by The Blue Lagoon) and then wound up spending a good chunk of his career making family movies (Flight of the Navigator, Big Top Pee-Wee, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid). While he doesn't exactly draw memorable performances out of the actors (all of whom have done vastly better work elsewhere), he does manage to deliver a movie that feels energetic and well-paced despite the fact that next to nothing actually happens. The characters are too wrapped up in their raging hormones and complicated emotions to demonstrate much humor, but the film itself demonstrates a playful streak from time to time (there are quite a few shots of the island's elderly native residents angrily observing these nekkid young tourists running around all over the place).

Summer Lovers is very much a product of its era, and that's ultimately the most interesting thing about it. The film was released in 1982, just before the AIDS epidemic began sweeping across the country and altering social attitudes about sex. Here we have one of the last breaths of the “free love” era; a silly little slice of island romance that grants all of its characters the opportunity to do whatever they want with whoever they want without any fear of consequences. In the words of Laurence Laurentz: “Would that it were so simple.”

Summer Lovers

Rating: ★★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 98 minutes
Release Year: 1982