Back to the Beach

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Twenty-five years ago, my parents were the most popular teenagers in America. It's true. My dad was a teen idol. Girls threw themselves at him. Unfortunately, this was 1962 and he had to throw them back. When Dad wasn't singing he spent his life on a surfboard. They called him "The Big Kahuna". When I was born, Dad wanted to call me "Little Kahuna". Luckily, he settled for Bobby. As for Mom, she joined that strange cult called the Mouseketeers. She became the first pin-up queen for boys under 12. Anyhow, they got married and moved to Ohio right after the accident. Don't get him started on the surf accident. Around our house we have this nightly ritual, it's called "dinner, and then the accident story". Let me spare you this. Twenty years ago while surfing this humongous wave knocked the Kahuna right out of Dad, and he's never been the same since.
Bobby, opening lines of the film.

Back to the Beach is a 1987 comedy film with musical numbers, starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. The film is an open parody of the beach party movies made popular in the 1960s, especially those in which Avalon and Funicello had appeared. The plot is merely the means of connecting the various Sight Gags, Homages and In-Jokes. And all the character names are taken from those earlier films.

Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello are husband and wife living in Ohio, far from the surf and sand of their earlier lives together. Frankie is a stressed-out car salesman and former "Big Kahuna" of the surf scene in California while Annette bottles her own sense of angst up in a bevy of shopping. They have two children: a college-aged daughter named Sandi who is living in California, and Bobby, their early teen son, who is in the throes of rebellion against his seemingly square folks.

The film's plot essentially launches when, on their way to a vacation in Hawaii, Frankie and Annette make a stopover in California to visit Sandi. They are appalled to learn that she has been seeing, and living with, Surfer Dude Michael throughout her time there. The family misses their flight to Hawaii, and ultimately end up staying in California, much to the chagrin of Frankie. Frankie and Annette get caught up with the lives of their old friends and their old beach, and thus their last beach adventure begins.

Along the way, Frankie must work together with a new generation of younger surfers while nearly ruining his marriage by dallying with Connie Stevens, an old acquaintance who turns out to be Michael's mother. Meanwhile, Bobby abandons his parents to side with the punks threatening the beach. Frankie and Annette encounter old friends and enemies and wend their way through a veritable labyrinth of Shout-Outs to and Cameos from the 1960s. In the end "The Big Kahuna" overcomes his fears and proves that he is still the king of surfers, as he takes back his title, saves the beach from the punks, and even earns the respect of his son.

Not to be confused with On the Beach.

Tropes used in Back to the Beach include:
  • Actor Allusion: Dozens, maybe hundreds of then. This film is built on a firm foundation of actor allusions and Shout-Outs.
  • As Himself: Dick Dale, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Fishbone and Pee-wee Herman.
    • Bobby's initial monologue (see page quote) flat out states that his parents are the celebrities who are playing them.
  • Chroma Key: Knowingly used in imitation of the original beach films' "surfing" footage; lampshaded when someone comments on how Annette made it all the way back to shore without getting her bathing suit or her hair wet.
  • Crowd Song: Some of the musical numbers turn into this.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Bobby, when he's not Chewing the Scenery.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Annette and Frankie's family, with root causes stretching all the way back to the infamous surfing accident.
  • The Eighties: Oh, so very much so.
  • Eighties Hair: For most of the film Bobby has less than flattering things to say about his father's hairstyle. "Helmet Hair" is the kindest.
  • Generic Graffiti: Bobby spraypaints some on a brick wall in his living room.
  • Good Bad Girl: Basically, Connie as a teenager. Annette expresses a certain envy that she couldn't be a bad girl herself.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Bobby implies that his dad runs a slightly more on-the-level version of this trope. The footage we see doesn't contradict him.
  • Important Haircut: At the end, when Bobby has decided his father isn't as appallingly uncool as he'd thought, he abandons his punk look for a copy of his father's style -- including getting his own "hair helmet".
  • In-Series Nickname: "The Big Kahuna"
  • Jukebox Musical
  • Large Ham: Bobby.
  • Musical World Hypotheses: The film seems mostly to run on the Diagetic Hypothesis, but there are some numbers which don't quite seem to work diagetically, such as Fishbone spontaneously breaking into song on the beach when Annette asks if they know how to Jamaica Ska.
  • Narrator: Bobby.
  • No Fourth Wall: Bobby's narration is explicitly given to the camera/audience.
  • No Name Given/Only Known by Their Nickname: Frankie Avalon's character is never given a name. He is only ever called by his nickname, "The Big Kahuna", and the credits list him as "Annette's Husband".
  • Non Sequitur Scene: Pee-wee Herman sweeping onto the beach, singing "Surfing Bird", and then flying away on a surfboard afterward.
  • Noodle Incident: Subverted and played with with "the surf accident".
  • Nostalgia Filter: Definitely in play with Frankie and Annette's attempts to recreate the good old days.
  • Overprotective Dad: Frankie toward Sandi.
  • The Pollyanna: Annette has elements of this in personality.
  • Product Placement: Lampshaded and played with; Annette's "one little quirk" is an obsession with Skippy peanut butter, which is apparently the basis of every lunch she makes. And when we see into her kitchen cabinets, one is completely filled with jars of Skippy. (At the time the film was made, Annette was appearing in a series of commercials for Skippy.)
  • Punk: Bobby embraces a punk/Badass Biker look as part of his early-teen rebellion against his parents.
    • Later in the movie, a gang of beach punks vies for control of the beach and Bobby joins them.
    • In the opening credits, a babysitter hands off his charge to a large, unsavory-looking punk; a minute later, the baby has gone punk.
  • Recognition Failure: A variant occurs with a flight attendant, who recognizes Annette and Frankie, but remembers the latter as "The Big Chihuahua".
  • Self-Deprecation: This film was a long-standing project of Frankie Avalon's. The complete mess his character is in at the start was entirely his idea.
  • Ska: The basis of an entire musical number featuring Fishbone.
  • Small Reference Pools: Defied by Annette, who apparently knows far more about obscure or upcoming musical genres (like Ska) than her college-age daughter does.
  • Spontaneous Choreography: Justified in many cases, as it occurs at beach parties and seems to be common pre-existing dance steps. In another case, Annette teaches the dance as part of a song she's singing.
  • Surf Rock: Absolutely unavoidable in this film, especially since the patron saint of surf rock, Dick Dale, does an entire number with Frankie.
  • Surfer Dude: Frankie is Ye Originale Surfer Dude, and naturally the rest of the cast is lousy with them.
  • Tastes Like Diabetes: Frankie's unending stream of overly cute endearments for his daughter, which is bad enough to cause mass vomiting In-Universe.
  • Totally Radical: Some of the current surfer types come across this way.
    • Deliberately invoked by Pee-wee Herman during his performance of "Surfing Bird".
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Frankie prompts the passengers of an entire plane to immediately throw up into their air sickness bags when the mention of his daughter's name sends him into a recitation of his overly-cute pet names for her.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Frankie wanted to name Bobby "Little Kahuna", bur apparently Annette talked him out of it.
  • World of Ham: Part of the Guilty Pleasure appeal of this film is just how goofily over-the-top so many of the performances are (and deliberately so).