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Film / Last Summer (1969)

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A 1969 drama film directed by Frank Perry and adapted by his wife Eleanor from Evan Hunter's eponymous novel published the year before, Last Summer is a coming-of-age story about four teenagers, all with hard lives and strained relationships with their parents, spending a summer vacation together on New York's Fire Island.

One day while playing on the beach, Sandy (Barbara Hershey) discovers a seagull with a broken wing, shortly before being greeted by Peter (Richard Thomas) and Dan (Bruce Davison). Together, the three of them band together to fix the seagull's wing and teach it to fly again. As this project continues, they bond and commiserate over issues they have with adults, particularly their parents. Also lots of alcohol and sex.

Towards the end of this project to help out the seagull, they encounter a younger and socially awkward girl named Rhoda (Catherine Burns), who voices her issues with their attempts at rehabilitating the seagull. Though distant at first, the three warm up to the new girl, and decide to teach her how to swim. Romance and horror ensue.

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Catherine Burns received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.


Tropes:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Of a sort. In the film, Rhoda is only raped by Dan (though Peter and Sandy provide assistance). In the novel, both David (Dan's counterpart) and Peter take turns raping Rhoda.
  • Adaptational Name Change: David in the book is renamed Dan in the film.
  • The Alcoholic: Implied with Peter and Dan's parents.
  • Beach Episode: The film takes place on Fire Island and most of the scenes are by the shore.
  • Binge Montage: Everyone washes each other's hair after smoking marijuana.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: A dark one.
  • Dating Service Disaster: The main cast winds up setting up a date between Rhoda and a Puerto Rican man named Anibal. This proves somewhat disastrous for both parties. Although Anibal is personable and appears to be generally harmless, at bare minimum he has no issue drinking three Scotches in quick succession, and he's aiming for a woman much younger than him — albeit not nearly as young as the cast actually is. The main cast clearly don't mind playing with someone else's feelings—Rhoda notwithstandig—and are trying to use him for free food and booze. They ultimately let him get beaten up by a trio of rowdy young men. This leads to a conflict between Rhoda and the other three, which culminates in Dan raping her while the other two pin her down.
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  • Daylight Horror: Most of the scenes take place during the bright sun on Fire Island. For most of the film, an ominous atmosphere pervades the story, contrasting with the sunny shoreline. Rhoda is raped by Dan with the collusion of Peter and Sandy in the middle of a brightly lit forest on the sunniest day of the Summer.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When Sandy gets bitten by the seagull that they rehabilitated, she kills it with a rock the next day.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Most of the cast has seen their parents divorce and most of those find terrible new partners. Additionally, both Sandy and Rhoda have been molested by friends of their parents at least once. Rhoda's mother drowned during a drunken dare. The boys don't have it much easier and it is likely that their parents are alcoholics. All their parents seem rather neglectful and the four receive no supervision the entire length of the film.
  • Free-Range Children: The surviving parents of the four children are never seen in the movie while they are on summer vacation and the only time they are nearby is when they are at a house party getting drunk offscreen. While part of this is the more permissiveness of the time, part of this is also due to neglectful parenting and the teens really do get themselves in many situations that teenagers shouldn't be in.
  • Gang of Bullies: There's a trio of rowdy young men who harass the main characters after hours. Unlike more typical examples, these men are far from harmless. Over the course of the film Dan, Peter and Sandy become this to Rhoda.
  • Latin Lover: The computer dating service sets up Anibal the Puerto Rican with the main group, ultimately Rhoda is 'his date.' Played with in that he's actually somewhat shy.
  • Minimalist Cast: For half of the movie, there are really only Dan, Peter and Sandy. Rhoda joining makes it 4, but there are few extras and only Anibal gets any screentime worth mentioning.
  • Missing Mom: Rhoda's mother died recently in a drunken bet that she couldn't swim to an isolated sandbar and back. She couldn't(at least while drunk), drowned and now Rhoda harbors ill will towards her.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: In the Film,Dan performs this on Rhoda with the full cooperation of Sandy and Peter. In the book, it's even worse: David and Peter take turns.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Sandy convinces the somewhat frumpily dressed Rhoda to wear a bikini alongside a dress, instead of a one piece and pantsuit respectively. Peter begins to develop feelings for her alongside his existent feelings for Sandy.
  • The Stoner: Implied with Peter's parents. Peter and the maid know that they smoke marijuana due to the intense smell it leaves(even with the windows open) and he seems to be able to effortlessly steal from their supply without alerting them.
  • Teens Are Monsters: These teenagers drink, swear, strip, feel each other up and worse.

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