The years between 1955, when "Rebel Without a Cause" was released, and 1963, when John Kennedy was assassinated, have grown into an enchanted time for American movies - a time when rock 'n' roll was new and you could tell cars apart just by looking at them. I can't even begin to count all of the recent movies set in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They're so numerous they almost constitute a genre of their own, especially when you add in all of the biopics of 1950s rock stars, such as Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and Jerry Lee Lewis.
What was it about that period? Most of the new movies set in that time are aimed at today's teenagers, who were not alive in 1963, and yet these are not nostalgia films. They seem to pretend that the intervening years have not happened, that in an alternative universe this is still somehow the world of American teenagers. They embody a longing for a more innocent time, when teenagers were allowed to live simpler and saner lives than now seems possible. Movies about today's teenagers tend to be filled with drugs and alienation (look at "Lost Angels," "The Lost Boys" or "Less Than Zero"). But in the era of Elvis and the Chevy Bel-Air, young lives could be filled with hope and wonder, and sex was still allowed to be mysterious.
Here is a movie named "Shag," about four girls from Spartanburg, S.C., who sneak away from their respectable homes for a weekend at Myrtle Beach, where the big spring festival promises a dance contest, beer blasts and lots of cute boys. Because we have seen other movies like this, we are not surprised that during the weekend one of the girls will fall in love, one will decide to go for her dream, one will decide not to marry the slug she's engaged to, and another will take off her glasses and find that she isn't plain after all - that boys like her.
"Shag" respects these conventions so sincerely that there is hardly a surprising plot development in the whole movie, and yet it's fun anyway. It has a charm based on its innocence, its conviction, its pre-Beatles soundtrack and the big 1950s cars the kids drive around in.