Film Review: Summer Lovers (1982)


In early 1980s, during the dying gasps of Sexual Revolution and shortly before AIDS would bring new neo-puritan paradigm, Hollywood tried to explore and exploit various unconventional forms of sexuality. One such attempt was Summer Lovers, 1982 romantic drama written and directed by Randal Kleiser.

Protagonists, played by Peter Gallagher and Daryl Hannah, are Michael Pappas and Cathy Featherstone, young couple of recent college graduates who comes to the Greek island of Santorini to spend eight weeks of vacation. The island is full of tourists, most of them young Europeans whose morality and customs seem more relaxed than in America. That includes rampant nudism on the beaches. One day, while exploring the island alone, Michael notices mysterious beautiful woman (played by Valerie Quennessen) sunbathing in the nude. He feels immediately attracted to her and, after stumbling into her few more times, he goes to beach with her before they have sex. He later admits his infidelity to Cathy who is upset and later tries to get even by having sex with local Greek youth Yorgos (played by Vladimiros Kiriakidis). She gives up on the idea in the last moment and, after learning that Michael continues to see the other woman, decides to confront her. Instead of conflict she finds a woman, French archaeologist named Lina, to be quite nice person who tells her than she doesn't want to steal her boyfriend. Cathy and Lina quickly become friends and soon they spend all their time together with Michael. Trio begins to have the time of their life, enjoying the beaches, night clubs and, ultimately having sex together.

Randal Kleiser two years earlier had great success with The Blue Lagoon, another film about young good-looking protagonists enjoying romantic bliss on the paradise island. The setting might be different, but Kleiser again shows great skill in using it, and the crystal blue sea, spectacular vistas and Mediterranean architecture are put to good use. Unlike The Blue Lagoon, the protagonists in this film were adult, which allowed Kleiser to make this film additionally attractive by featuring all three protagonists naked during the large sections of the film. Despite the all-present nudity and plenty of discussions about sex, there isn't a single explicit sex scene in the film. Summer Lovers looks great and also sounds great, at least to those who are nostalgic towards early 1980s pop music, because soundtrack features diverse collection of greatest hits from the time (although at times played jukebox-style without much connection to the plot). Unfortunately, the script apparently wasn't Kleiser forte. Characters are one-dimensional and have forgettable lines of dialogue and poor writing doesn't allow audience to learn much of their backgrounds and lives before they arrived on Santorini (apart from Michael inheriting apparently lucrative business from his recently deceased father). Actors do best what they could with such mediocre material, but even such future stars like Gallagher and Hannah can't overcome its limitations. Qunnessen, best known as King Osric's daughter in Conan the Barbarian, fares somewhat better in the role of sexually liberated Frenchwoman who would gradually guide their new American friends and lovers to discover their true desires. Sadly, it was her last major role before she retired from acting in order to dedicate herself to family.

Another problem with the script is the lack of plot. Once the ménage à trois is firmly established, there doesn't seem to be much interesting things to happen with the protagonists and their relationship. Kleiser seemed to be aware of this, so he tried to add few more elements in the last third of the film. One is the scene featuring Cathy's conservative mother making surprise visit which employs cheap comedy, and another is subplot in which Lina gets inexplicably attracted to menacing-looking young man (played by Hans Van Tongeren, Dutch actor who tragically ended his life shortly after the premiere) and disappears, leaving Michael and Cathy heart-broken and deciding to end their vacation prematurely. That is followed by obligatory happy ending at the airport, which is melodramatic, cheesy and predictable. Many in the audience wouldn't mind – some of those would feel nostalgia towards early 1980s, and some would enjoy the insight into the times when promiscuity wasn't the bad word and polyamory was being taken seriously as credible alternative to monogamous lifestyle which is seldom questioned in our, seemingly more enlightened "woke" times.

RATING: 5/10 (++)

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