The friends of Frances Lawrence (Sandra Dee) are worried about her because she shows no interest in joining their manhunt. It's the summer break and she is about to go into senior year, so they drag her to the beach and attempt to attract the attention of the surfer boys there, parading about, sunbathing and playing with a ball, but the surfers only mock their efforts, leading the three friends to settle on another beach to try. Frances is fed up with them, though, and decides to stay where she is and go swimming, little knowing that this surfing thing will capture her imagination...
The film which secured Sandra Dee's reputation as a teen megastar, for a few short years anyway, was this disarming comedy drama which as a by product also kick started the whole beach movie genre of the sixties: where would Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello have been without it? Funnily enough, the film also drummed up a huge amount of interest in surfing, even though the dedicated adherents to the sport looked down on the film as a pretty bland representation of their passion, not surprising when you see no wave over three feet in height and the cast do that rear projection thing to fool nobody that it wasn't their stunt doubles out there on the ocean.
Although you'd think the audience for this nowadays would be those who caught it as teenagers themselves all those years ago, the production's essential cuteness means that a new generation discovers it every once in a while, and much of that appeal was down to Dee. She was no heavyweight actress, that's for sure, but in spite of her slight appearance (not only was she short, she had a lifelong battle with anorexia as well) she was perky enough to be ideal for this kind of role, someone girls of the era could look up to as while Gidget makes mistakes and gets out of her depth, she is resourceful and capable enough to be trustworthy, sensible in a manner that her parents don't quite believe she can be - or her friends, for that matter.
Gidget - so called because it was a combination of "girl" and "midget" - becomes a mascot to the surfers when she opts to make this her hobby, and while they don't take her seriously she is underestimated by just about everyone in the story, something which would engage the teen audience as they would feel the same way about how they were judged. Actually, there's not as much surfing footage as you would expect, as the plot prefers to concentrate on Gidget's endeavours to be noticed by Moondoggie (James Darren), the surly but really more clean cut than he lets on surfer who resists her charms for just about the whole movie. Darren gets to sing a couple of tunes for the soundtrack album, so we know he can't be as grumpy as he makes out.
In addition, Cliff Robertson appeared as The Big Kahuna, the man the other surfers looked up to, who finds his independent lifestyle improved by the appearance of Gidget, but what you notice after a while is how unhappy all the lead characters are. Sure, Kahuna's mynah bird dies halfway through the movie, but it's as if the film doesn't take the improving nature of surfing with the gravity its fans do; that's not to say it doesn't like surfing, but here it's not the be all and end all, and there's still something missing in the lives of the characters we see. It might be Gidget pining over Moondoggie, it might be Moondoggie realising his life is a hollow sham, it might be Gidget's parents fretting about their little girl growing up too fast, but there's a lot of heartstring-tugging going on in this. You could take it all on face value, with its bright colours and sundrenched scenery, but the happy ending is harder earned than anticipated.