California Dreaming (1979) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A nerd from Chicago tries desperately to fit in with the California surfing crowd, blind to the fact that their lives are even more boring and empty than his.

  • Young T.T. comes from Chicago to spend the summer in California. He slowly becomes "California-ized," while learning about love and life in the Golden State.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Wearing a suit and tie and carrying a suitcase full of records, eager newcomer Tony "T.T." Thompson (Dennis Christopher) arrives at State Beach, California, on a bus from Chicago, Illinois, at the height of summer. Inside the local hangout, Duke's Vista del Mar, T.T. listens to the jukebox and introduces himself to the owner, Duke Slusarski (Seymour Cassel), explaining that he is in town to honor his late brother Phil, a jazz musician who dreamed of playing his trumpet by the ocean. Touched by T.T.s spiritual mission, Duke offers the young man a place to stay at his house, but Duke's daughter, Corky (Glynnis O'Connor), is upset about the visitor's intrusion, since she was hoping to spend more time with her father during her last month at the beach before she returns to college. The next morning, Corky and T.T.s interaction begins awkwardly as she undresses in the bathroom to shower, not realizing he is using the toilet.

    At the local auto shop, Jordy Banks (Todd Susman), a local wealthy snob, shows off his shiny Corvette to local diner waitress Corrine (Alice Playten) and her boyfriend, Earl Fescue (Ned Wynn), the garage's mechanic. As Earl and Corrine admire the sports car, Jordy, who is trying to impress Corrine, offers a bet that if Earl can live in his old Pontiac for the next six weeks until Labor Day, he can have the Corvette; however, if he vacates the Pontiac for any reason, he must give it to Jordy. Confidently, Earl accepts the challenge.

    At the beach, T.T. stands by in black socks and green shorts, watching Corky and Duke play volleyball. When T.T. introduces himself to local surfers, Rick (John Calvin), Tenner (John Fain) and Mike (Jimmy Van Patten), they ignore him and call him a "kook" behind his back. T.T. also meets Fay (Dorothy Tristan), Duke's ex-wife, who owns a bathing suit and clothing store in town. Fay is also close to her former step-daughter, Corky whom they go jogging together on the beach every day.

    Back at the garage among a crowd of onlookers, a television news team reports on Earl's six-week car-living challenge, as steel bars are welded onto the Pontiac's windows and the doors are sealed.

    Over the next several weeks as the summer season goes on, Duke tries to help T.T. fit in by buying him appropriate beachwear and showing him how to play volleyball, a sport that Duke compares to sex. He also shares stories about participating in the 1956 summer Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland, as a swimming athlete. Inspired, T.T. practices volleyball in his room, while Corky continues to ignore him.

    After smoking marijuana on the beach one day, T.T. goes to the local movie theater. At the crowded concession stand, T.T. becomes aroused by the girls gathered around the counter, and ends up spilling soda on his shirt. In the men's bathroom, T.T. encounters surfers Rick and Mike, and Mike is too intoxicated to stand after being dumped by his girlfriend. After T.T. helps guide Mike to the car, three girls surround T.T. eager to know a friend of the popular surfers, but he keeps his eye on Corky as she leaves the theater.

    Meanwhile, imprisoned in his Pontiac, Earl follows Jordy and Corrine around town and watches in frustration as they begin to date.

    In another minor subplot, Rick deals with his girlfriend Stephanie (Tanya Roberts) who wants him to do something more with his life rather than surf all day.

    For the next lesson in beach life, Duke teaches T.T. about surfing, using an old redwood board. However, when T.T. tries to ride with Rick and the other surfers, he is swallowed by the first wave, and the board rolls ashore without him. Later, Tenner shows T. T. how to surf on a modern board, and eventually T.T. is able to stand up without falling.

    While driving with Rick and Tenner to a surfing competition at Borrega Beach, Rick advises T.T. that Duke is a fraud, explaining that the 1956 Summer Olympics took place in Melbourne, Australia, not Helsinki (which was in 1952). That night, in the back of Rick's van, an attractive blonde girl seduces T.T.

    Meanwhile, Stephanie is being pressured by her father to stop seeing Rick and wants her to travel with the family Hawaii for a vacation. However, he agrees with Stephanie to meet Rick at a dinner party in a few nights from now to meet him.

    The next day, at the competition, T.T. runs into Corky on the pier, but she is unimpressed by his new surfing pals and image. This time, T.T. retaliates by calling her rude, and Corky walks away surprised by his new self-assurance. When Duke approaches and begins to tell another nostalgic story, T.T. ignores him. At the competition, Tenner gets into an accident when he tries surfing under the local pier which results in a broken arm and his surfboard broken as well.

    Later one evening at his bar, Duke reveals to Fay that he has sold the hangout and plans to sail his boat to Hawaii. When he asks her to join him, she initially hesitates, wishing that he made the offer during their marriage, but realizes she cannot resist and decides to go.

    Meanwhile, Rick accompanies Stephanie to a party at her parents house where his drunken antics cause him to embarrass himself which leads Stephanie to finally decide that she wants to travel with her family to Hawaii.

    At Duke's house that same night, Corky begins to pester T.T., insisting that he stop playing his brother's depressing jazz music. Unable to suppress her attraction any longer, Corky follows T.T. to the bedroom and kisses him. They make love for the first time and fall asleep together. The next morning, Duke wakes the naked twosome to share the news about his rekindled romance with Fay, but he embarrasses his daughter and annoys T.T., who confronts him for telling phony stories.

    Later at a beach volleyball game, Duke plays well in front of Fay and a crowd of onlookers. On the nearby hillside, T.T. is grumpy and keeps his distance. Suddenly, Duke collapses on the beach from a heart attack and dies. Distraught, T.T. remains at the house instead of attending the funeral.

    Afterward, Corky finds T.T. on the boat and gives him an item that was found in Duke's closet, a certificate from the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, confirming Duke's competition in the backstroke event, coming in fourth and did not win any medal. Corky says Duke always lied about the year to avoid revealing his age.

    At the LAX airport, Stephanie is preparing to board a TWA flight to Hawaii with her parents. Rick is tagging along, but soon realizes that Stephanie did not buy a ticket for him when she boards the plane without him, leaving him alone and inconsolable.

    On his Labor Day deadline, Earl instructs a cement mixer to dump concrete into the Corvette that he has just won from Jordy in the driveway of his house. Corrine, who is still dating Jordy, screams at the site of the beautiful car being ruined, and Earl drives away in his Pontiac laughing.

    In the final scene, on a somber rainy day, Corky and T.T. say goodbye to Fay as enters a taxi to drive her to the airport as she leaves for Hawaii alone. Walking arm in arm, Corky and T.T. decide to begin a new life together.

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