I’ve never been a big fan of the ending of Grease.
It’s not that the songs aren’t catchy to close the show. It’s just the message that the musical sends to teenage girls is one I can’t quite behind. Basically, it’s do whatever it takes, even if that means changing your entire personality to get the boy.
Watching Gidget, I couldn’t help but wonder if Grease’s borrowing Sandra Dee’s name for its title character wasn’t some kind of homage or shout-out to the actress and her role as Gidget. Certainly, the way Gidget is portrayed here makes the Rizzo’s “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” take on a different level of meaning.
Made in 1959, Gidget kicked off the beach movie era and may have also ushered in the era of teenage sex comedies. While Gidget isn’t quite as ribald as Porkies or the American Pie series, the film isn’t exactly “pure as the driven snow” either.
It’s the summer before Francine’s senior year and all her girlfriends can think about is boys. And while Francine likes boys, she’d far rather learn to surf from a group of them down on the beach than flirt with them. Given the nickname Gidget (a combination of girl and person of shorter stature), Francine is taken under the wing of a group of surfers and tries to learn the ropes of surfing. Most of the guys are eager to help her, though the one that catches her eye the most, Moondoggie, seems to want to have little to do with her.
Gidget schemes to get Moondoggie to notice her — even paying one of the guys to escort her to big luau and working to make Moondoggie jealous.
And while there is some level of innocent flirtation taking place, Gidget doesn’t shy away from portraying concerns about sexuality over the course of its running time. Sure, it’s not Shannon Elizabeth as the foreign exchange student in American Pie, but Gidget does express concern to her mother about being as pure as the driven snow and later throws herself the much older leader of the group, Kahuna, after seemingly being rejected by Moondoggie. Gidget even comes out and asks Kahuna to sleep with her for the first time, in the hopes that this will make her more appealing to boys.
In many ways, what Gidget is doing is similar to the character arc that Sandy takes in Grease.
However, where we never met any of the kids’ parents in Grease, we do get to see Gidget’s family come into play here. She does talk to her mother a bit about boys and there is her father, who takes over Gidget’s social life after she storms out to attend the luau and then gets a flat tire while leaving Kahuna’s after he turns down her offer to sleep with him. (Kahuna is doing the right thing, knowing he’s older and that Gidget doesn’t necessarily want to sleep with him).
It’s interesting that at one point, Gidget’s mom points to a framed sampler done by her grandmother that reads, “To be a real woman is to bring out the best in a man.” Not exactly the most liberated sentiment, there.
If it seems like I’m overthinking what should be a sweet, innocent beach comedy, I probably am. But, Gidget ends up being a bit more subversive than its reputation might let on — and I’m not sure the messages are always great ones.
Oh, and you can’t overlook that in the close-up scenes of people surfing that it’s all acting being done in front of a green screen. Yeah, sometimes HD doesn’t necessarily make everything better.
And it may just me be, but you can’t help but get some romantic undertones between Gidget and her friend, Patti. I can’t help but feel if Gidget were produced today if we wouldn’t find out that Patti has an unrequited and unacknowledged crush on her friend.