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5 movies that were shot in and around the Jersey Shore

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5 movies that were shot in and around the Jersey Shore


In the roughly 200-million-year history of the East Coast, hardly anybody has made a good movie about the Jersey Shore. In the beginning, this was because there were no people or cameras, but more recently it’s because the region is disrespected by Hollywood, America, and God.

So most directors aim their cameras elsewhere. Perhaps by the end of this summer, every single grain of sand in California and Florida will have been documented in at least one vacation rom-com, surfing doc, or true crime flick, while the gorgeous, windswept, 99% medical waste-free beaches of New Jersey remain relatively unmentioned in IMDb’s shooting location tags.

OK, here’s where some of you may begin rattling off movie titles with which you may rebut my rapidly accelerating rant, but answer me this: You sure about that?

Local favorite Frankies, Avalon and Valli, both did movies full of shore shenanigans in 1965 — Beach Blanket Bingo and Beach Ball, respectively — but they shot ‘em in California. And things haven’t exactly improved since then.

Where is our Endless Summer, our Point Break, our M. Night Shyamalan presents The Beach That Makes You Get Old Too Fast?

Why has nobody made a star-studded summer romp about college kids in the ‘80s working at Brigantine Castle and running their fingers through one another’s huge, thick, funnel cake-crumbed hair? Where’s our Blue-ish Crush, about surfer babes catching mildly gnarly waves while training for a big competition down in, like, Cape May or something?

And don’t even get me started on Jaws. That was based on real events that happened on Long Beach Island in 1916. New York stole our shark!

OK. Calming down. Let’s get to the point: While the Jersey Shore is woefully underrepresented on the silver screen, there are just enough movies out there to create a hazy fun house mosaic about the place that hints at its wonders, horrors, and heartbreaks. Here they are in no particular order.

‘The Wrestler’ (2008)

No sadness is more cinematic than an estranged dad and daughter taking a slow winter stroll down a gray Wildwood boardwalk beside the gray dunes beneath the gray sky. And when Mickey Rourke turns to Evan Rachel Wood and calls himself “an old broken down piece of meat,” it’s enough to bring a tear to your eye (even though that line was in all the commercials).

What’s that? Springsteen wrote another pitch-perfect loser anthem? Sure let’s play it over the credits so everybody just feels like dying right there in the theater. Darren Aronofsky made a hopeless masterpiece with this one, and Mickey Rourke deserved all the awards. The Wrestler is only partly a Shore movie, but it captures a familiar strain of small-town Jersey melancholy no matter how far it strays from the coast.

‘Birdy’ (1984)

Wounded and haunted, Al (Nicolas Cage) returns from Vietnam to find his pigeon-obsessed pal Birdy (Matthew Modine) borderline catatonic in a psychiatric hospital, and tries to snap him out of it by recounting their old adventures growing up together in southwest Philly. Local podcaster Mary Jones (of Mary Versus the Movies) calls Birdy “maybe the most Philly movie” she’s ever seen, and it’s true. All those busted up streets, overgrown lots, and grimy train trestles smell like home.

But this is a Shore movie, too, as our protagonists occasionally head to Wildwood in pursuit of their dreams (smooching girls, trying to fly, etc.). Birdy may never soar in the clouds, but he gets a taste of it riding the roller coaster at Hunt’s Pier. What could have been a maudlin story about PTSD is instead a touching, funny, surprising story about the lunacy of friendship.

‘Three Little Girls in Blue’ (1946)

The so-called “little girls” are the 20-something Carter sisters, a trio of infantilized gold-digging ghouls who head to the “millionaires’ playground” of Atlantic City in pursuit of rich husbands at the turn of the last century. Every five minutes or so, they break into song, and it’s deeply uncomfortable. Nobody knows where to look. The strings are dreary and pervasive.

Praised by one wire service film critic back in the day as an “exciting whirlwind of gaiety, romance and melody,” Three Little Girls in Blue may to modern eyes and ears seem an irredeemable bore. But it does have a legacy in the form of two memorable musical numbers: “You Make Me Feel So Young” was later recorded by Sinatra, and it makes way more sense coming from a world-weary crooner than a powder-faced damsel. The aspirational anthem “On the Boardwalk (in Atlantic City),” meanwhile, went on to become an ironic audio accent in later movies to draw attention to the seedy, depressed side of the seaside resort.

‘The King of Marvin Gardens’ (1972)

Turns out there are dozens of movies about dum-dums heading to A.C. to make bank, but this off-kilter drama starring Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern stands out for its pre-casino scenery and its found-poetry dialogue. Will their vague Miss America scheme go off without a hitch? No. But check out those motorized jitneys on the Boardwalk. It’s not a tramcar, it’s something else. We should all be driving those things around.

‘Atlantic City’ (1980)

This is peak Depressed A.C. Cinema. The former millionaires’ playground is exposed as a town mired in gambling, drugs, violence, and inequity. Susan Sarandon and Burt Lancaster are captivating as lovable sad sacks trying to keep their heads above water. Bolstered by cameos from Robert Goulet, Lucy the Elephant, and those marvelous motorized jitneys, Atlantic City is an immersive and affecting romantic thriller with plenty of tricks up its sleeve and a tremendous final shot. The film scored five Oscar noms but no wins, because everybody had On Golden Pond fever that year.

What else?

‘Eddie and the Cruisers’ (1983)

A promising music career is cut short when the ambitious lead singer of a Shore town band drives his Chevy Bel Air off the Ninth Street Bridge in Ocean City. Dark, weird, and stylish, Eddie and the Cruisers was a hit among VHS-trading teens in suburban Jerz back in the day. Includes memorable scenes at the Palace of Depression in Vineland and the legendary Tony Mart’s nightclub in Somers Point.

‘Roseanne Barr Live from Trump Castle’ (1990)

Lest you mistake the Jersey Shore for a place of class and sophistication.

‘The Toxic Avenger’ (1984)

It speaks volumes that Troma Films opted to set its radioactive janitor superhero flick in N.J.; the Garden State was synonymous with waste and pollution in the 1980s (even though all those syringes floated in from Staten Island). Toxic is an underground gross-out classic, if you like that sort of thing.

‘Stardust Memories’ (1980)

Woody Allen’s smarmy, quippy, black-and-white comedy was shot in and around Asbury Park.

‘Big Night’ (1996)

Restaurateurs Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci prepare the feast of their lives in the hopes that Louis Prima soon will be there. Finally a film about Jersey Italians with no mobster nonsense. Sensuous and lovely, too.



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