Maslin Beach film review
A look at the 1997 Australian nudist beach indie rom-com
Maslin Beach, located near Adelaide, South Australia, is the first official nude beach in the country, designated as such in 1975. Being an American who has never left their country, I can’t tell you much about it, but there’s something about the beautiful, pristine beach that led filmmaker Wayne Groom, who grew up and lives in Adelaide, to write and direct a quirky little low budget romantic comedy there that stands apart from other nudist films.
There is the barest sense of a plot to Maslin Beach: Simon, a young man who arrives on the beach early one day with his girlfriend Marcie, isn’t sure about their relationship. Riding around in an ice cream truck driven by his philosophical pal Ben (which nearly runs over several beachgoers), he starts to wonder if true love is even real. We don’t spend much time with him, though, as the beach is full of people that day, all going through similar problems.
The movie is more a series of vignettes, hopping from one set of characters to the next. Some of them cross paths with Simon and Marcie, but others don’t, their stories self contained. One seemingly happy couple is interrupted by a handsome magician, a woman tells her friend about how her ex-boyfriend put superglue on his penis one evening before sex, and a couple who arrive in the early afternoon to relax are disrupted by their cell phones, to mention a few of the quirky characters populating the beach. Things get pretty absurd pretty quickly, feeling like a teen sex comedy without any actual sex really happening.
Nudism is never mentioned once, despite the movie never leaving the beach and most of the cast being nude. Some characters remain at least semi-dressed, and only for one of them is this ever brought up.
The director, Groom, stated that he visited the beach often as a kid and loved it, and he directed the film nude himself, but I can’t find any mention of whether or not he identifies as a nudist, and none of his other film work seems to feature nudity so prominently, and that’s okay! He’s joked in interviews that not having many costumes, only one location, and setting the entire movie over the course of a single day were decisions made largely for keeping the budget low.
It’s pretty refreshing to watch one of these films and not feel like you’re being preached to about nudism, though; you just get caught up in the absurd tangle of these people’s romantic lives! They mostly skew young, but there are some older, heavier men and women who get some nice screen time too.
Additionally, the film is surprisingly raunchy with its humor, like the aforementioned superglue incident. Most nudist films are extremely chaste, with the romance always being sweet and innocent, due in part to Western society’s belief that nudity is itself sexual. This is, of course, untrue, and nudists tend to spend a lot of time arguing against that belief and presenting themselves as virtually asexual to keep a barrier up between nudism and sexuality. I wouldn’t say the movie gets quite as dirty as your average American Pie, but it does get close, including some fart jokes for good measure. I wasn’t put off by it or offended, and I was honestly a little taken aback by the funny juxtaposition of the casual nudity with the more lowbrow gags, but your mileage may vary.
It’s especially nice how, apart from a couple brief exceptions, none of the characters are really sexualized or shot in a more lurid way. There aren’t really any coy attempts at censorship either, the actors handle themselves casually. Aside from the outrageous relationships and situations the cast find themselves in, everything feels so genuine.
The beach itself is gorgeous, and cinematographer Rodney Bolton takes advantage of the natural light and the gorgeous landscape of sand and cliffs.
The version of the movie I watched, which I found on the Internet Archive, is a VHS recording of a TV broadcast. It’s fuzzy and low rez, there are tracking issues throughout, part of a commercial is accidentally left in, and yet I still found this movie so warm and pleasant to look at. It’s so relaxed, especially in its pacing.
The music itself is sparse and a little unusual, I couldn’t decide if I liked it or not, but it definitely added to the quirky vibe of the movie.
Maslin Beach is a strange little gem of a movie, and I wish there were more like it. Wayne Groom had a clear vision and was able to execute it on a low budget without any real compromise. You can really see his love for the location in every shot. The closest comparison I can think of is Act Naturally, and I have to say I enjoy this one more. As the first nudist film I watched in 2024, it was a good choice, and it’s also the 50th nudist film I’ve watched, according to a list I’ve been maintaining on Letterboxd. I can’t even remember how I found it—someone recommended it to me on Twitter long ago, and I remembered it while scrolling my watchlist—but I’m grateful. 🪐