My expectations for Gidget Goes Hawaiian weren’t particularly high. The title is a dead giveaway to its cheesiness, and the fact that no one reprises their role other than Moondoggie (James Darren would be in all three) were indications this wouldn’t be the best movie; I just didn’t know how bad. Deborah Walley puts on a good imitation of Sandra Dee – screeching and all – but the plot is a hodgepodge of bland conventions that lack the emotional punch, or the sly tongue-in-cheek humor of its predecessor. I also had to wonder what the contract terms were for getting Darren back, because Gidget Goes Hawaiian skirts the line into musical territory at times, all on top of other bizarre “performance art” that creates an interminable hour and forty-one minutes.
Gidget (Walley) and Moondoggie (Darren) are reunited after a summer apart; but when Gidget’s parents tell her they’re going to Hawaii, a series of complications causes her and Moondoggie to break up. Winging her way to Hawaii, Gidget meets the snobby Abby Stewart (Vicki Trickett) who doesn’t like that the girl surfer monopolizes all the boys.
Gidget Goes Hawaiian is the stereotypical Hawaiian installment that permeated the landscape of films and television throughout the 1960s. The island is a mysterious and glamorous locale where the people play with fire, dance, and are nothing more than the “native population.” The location itself is incidental and could easily be replaced with New York or the original location of the first film (which we see for about five minutes in the beginning).
It’s sad how the sequel rewrites the story set down within Gidget, right down to and including flashback scenes of Gidget and Moondoggie’s courtship from the first film. If you saw the original (and audiences would have had two years in-between), then these flashbacks were cheap recreations of events already laid down in audiences’ minds; it’s a slap in the face by inserting Walley into sequences where Dee was, such as the initiation sequence. I understand the need for the gimmick, since home video wasn’t in vogue and audiences of the time won’t remember, but if you’re watching these back-to-back it’s ridiculous. We also lose the sly innuendo that the first one was known for. In my review of the original Gidget, I was taken aback by the subtle references to Gidget losing her virginity. Her interactions with the boys is never overtly sexual, but the body language of the men all lead the audience to believe Gidget is losing something by, while keeping it relatively clean for teen audiences. Gidget Goes Hawaiian is more overt with the references and it loses its luster quickly (probably because it’s not integrated into a plot like surfing where bodies come together in more salacious, albeit unintentional, situations). Abby Stewart, our villain, spreads a rumor about Gidget being “one of those girls” who is involved with all the boys on the beach and that’s the plot. Said rumor ends up spreading like wildfire and ruining Gidget’s relationship with her parents and friends; a whole movie about slut-shaming! Surfing takes up about ten minutes of screentime; I didn’t expect the plot to be a total rehash of the first, but Gidget’s in a place known for great surfing, and doesn’t do it!
Compared to the original, the first Gidget had the innuendo blended alongside a female character who didn’t know – and didn’t care about – boys, so you were able to ignore any stark sexual allusions; moreover, the narrative followed Gidget learning to surf, and gaining the respect of the boys. With Gidget Goes Hawaiian, the plot is a conventional girl goes to the beach story ripped from the Frankie and Annette movies. Vicki Trickett is a lovely girl, but she’s written to be the sophisticated bitch and thus we never explore the differences (if any) between Gidget’s friendship with boys vs. girls; Abby becomes proof that women can’t be friends. Additionally, Abby takes on a lot of the roles Gidget used to for the first half of the movie as our titled heroine spends the time moping over Moondoggie. Her boy-crazy mentality is another damaging element to Gidget Goes Hawaiian. In the first, Francie Lawrence was a girl who didn’t want to engage in a “manhunt” with her friends; she wanted to go explore the ocean, and take up a hobby like surfing (which just happens to make her cool with boys because she’s not a stereotypical young lady). Gidget was a girl with a brain who put herself in situations that she could extricate herself from; she has a moral compass that doesn’t waver.
All of that is thrown into the ocean with this sequel. From the minute Gidget and Moondoggie are reunited (after a summer where Gidget has undergone a complete body/facial transformation) gone is the independent young lady whose maturity was grander than her height. In her place is a pie-eyed, boy-crazy girl who believes that Moondoggie’s pin makes her his wife! Sandra Dee’s Gidget would never start picking china patterns! And Gidget may have had her moments of over excitement where she became shrill, but even that’s replaced with a bipolar Gidget that’s happy one minute and sobbing the next. There’s also an unnecessary subplot involving her parents (who are played by different actors) that appears to aim for adults but just keeps the story going on and on. We also have dream sequences that look like rejects from the “Gotta Dance” number of Singin’ in the Rain; one particular sequence with Gidget being pregnant was a tad risqué, but only aids in the slut-shaming storyline.
I can’t fathom how much worse Gidget Goes to Rome is, and I’m a bit scared to find out. Gidget Goes Hawaiian has the makings of a television sitcom (which would happen four years later) and Deborah Walley is cute, but she isn’t given any material to work with other than crying and smiling. James Darren has several songs in this movie, that all sound exactly the same. He’s still okay as Moondoggie, but the character is just too perfect. Here’s hoping Gidget Goes to Rome doesn’t ruin my love for the first.
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