Psycho Beach Party

Psycho Beach Party

2000, NR, 95 min. Directed by Robert Lee King. Starring Lauren Ambrose, Thomas Gibson, Nicholas Brendon, Matt Keeslar, Beth Broderick, Charles Busch, Andrew Levitas, Nick Cornish, Kathleen Robertson, Danni Wheeler, Amy Adams.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 29, 2000

Like wow, daddio: This comic send-up of surf and slasher movies is a real solid sender. Using Gidget movies as its comic template, Psycho Beach Party camps up the details with knowing abandon. Set largely on a Malibu beach in 1962, Psycho Beach Party throws together a wannabe surfer girl named Chicklet (Ambrose); the B-actress star of such movies as The Pizza Waitress With Three Heads (Robertson); a bunch of California surfer dudes, including a renegade psychology student (Brendon) and beach-bum legend named Kanaka (Gibson, of Dharma & Greg); and assorted other friends, parents, law-enforcement officials, and a Swedish foreign student (Keeslar). The film is an adaptation of Charles Busch's popular 1987 Off Broadway show. A theatrical cult figure, Busch commonly performs in drag, and appeared onstage in the role of Chicklet. In the film version, Busch cedes the role to a genuine female and assumes for himself the part of the tenacious Captain Monica Stark, the force's first female homicide detective (looking something like David Duchovny in drag on Twin Peaks, while ripping a page from the Joan Crawford school of resolute charm). Captain Stark dogs these characters because people in the vicinity of Chicklet keep turning up dead. Chicklet, who suffers from multiple personalities, is a prime suspect. Whenever she sees circles, this sweet-16 tomboy turns into a sex-crazed dominatrix or a finger-snapping mama named Tylene. Like a classic beach book whose purpose is to provide trashy fun, Pyscho Beach Party is a movie that just wants to have fun. Don't look to it for deep insight about the genres it spoofs. Where the movie excels is in the accuracy of its details. The performances (especially Ambrose's), the hipster-inflected dialogue and period non sequiturs, the surf music, and the real-gone dance sequence that accompanies the opening credits: all are scrupulously modeled on the real thing, with a touch of distancing camp attitude added for spice. Its cheeky, good fun is what makes Psycho Beach Party an enjoyable, if weightless, romp.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Lauren Ambrose Films
Sleepwalk With Me
In his directorial debut, Mike Birbiglia plays a struggling comic who begins sleepwalking shortly after he moves in with his longtime girlfriend.

Kimberley Jones, Aug. 31, 2012

A downsized Manhattan couple played by Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd stumble into a modern hippie commune and begin to reassess their goals in life.

Kimberley Jones, March 2, 2012

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Story of America's itinerant population wanders too much

Feb. 19, 2021

The Reason I Jump
Poetic insight into autism, based on Naoki Higashida memoir

Jan. 8, 2021


Psycho Beach Party, Robert Lee King, Lauren Ambrose, Thomas Gibson, Nicholas Brendon, Matt Keeslar, Beth Broderick, Charles Busch, Andrew Levitas, Nick Cornish, Kathleen Robertson, Danni Wheeler, Amy Adams

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle