In the stretches of sand on Fire Island, Peter (Richard Thomas) and Dan (Bruce Davison) meet sexy Sandy (Barbara Hershey) over a seagull that has swallowed a fish hook. As the three nurse it back to health, they also nurse along their camaraderie, bound by a common foe – hard-drinking, hard-cheating, uncaring parents.
Sandy, a would-be swinger and topless tease who looks like a young Mary Tyler Moore with a slight weight problem, is particularly rebelling, since her divorced mother is one of those whose main interest in life is the alimony cheque (“she’s going to make father pay until he dies”.)
They romp in the surf, swig down beer (these are the children of affluence – they drink Heineken), take tentative stabs at sex suggestions, laugh at the kind of things that only their age group would find amusing, and experiment with pot.
They are also greatly concerned with honesty – a potential legacy that was never bequeathed to them – and play a game called ‘Major Truths’ in which each reveals a dark secret about himself as a means of knotting the friendship even more tightly.
The trio is joined by a fourth – Rhoda (Cathy Burns), a plump braces-wearing refugee from Cleveland who looks like a freckled balloon and turns out to be the resident Puritan, gaining the nickname ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ (she also turns out to be the most sensitive and kindest member of the group).
Initially regarded as an outsider, she is eventually taken into the club – and unwittingly becomes the centre of violence in the sudden, sex-slam finale.
The kids are self-obsessed (they would never discuss Vietnam or ghetto poverty) and cruel. They con a Puerto Rican man with a computer dating form and get him drunk, taunting him while he is worked over by some local punks, Sandy impulsively crushes her pet gull’s skull because it pecks her, and (in the contrived conclusion) a dull, steamy day turns into a moment of grim assault and rape.
The acting is quite good, especially from Cathy Burns who delivers a long, difficult monologue about her mother drowning off Martha’s Vineyard.
Last Summer was directed by Frank Perry (The Swimmer, Mommie Dearest) and written by his wife, Eleanor who adapted a novel by Evan Hunter.