Monday, March 10, 2014

Valley Girl - 1983

"Valley Girl" - 1983
Dir. by Martha Coolidge - 1 hr. 39 min.


by Clayton Hollifield

There are some stories that get told over and over again, partly because the intended audience will be too young to know that this story has been told before.  The surface may be different, but the essential plot is the same.  In the case of "Valley Girl," this is an '80s Los Angeles take on "Romeo and Juliet."  It's not an insult to say that "Valley Girl" draws on the same story that Baz Luhrmann would about a decade later (and it's not an insult to any of the other teen dramas that draw on other Shakespeare plays, like "10 Things I Hate About You), but you should know by now whether or not a story's heritage is going to make it feel comfortably familiar or boringly derivative.

When you think of a "valley girl," you are thinking of Julie (Deborah Foreman), who is popular, communicates only in slang, hangs out at the mall with her other popular friends, and dates a popular guy.  Well, to start with, anyways.  Julie dumps Tommy (Michael Bowen) because he kind of looks like Will Forte...  no, that's not it.  He's kind of an ass, and she's tired of it, and there's a huge house party that night anyways.  Fred (Cameron Dye) overhears about the party on the beach, so he and Randy (Nicolas Cage) decide to crash it.  Problem is, Fred and Randy are punks, and everyone else at the party have popped collars and poofed hair.  They get thrown out, but not before Randy and Julie share a moment, which evolves into something more, something that Julie's friends can't wrap their heads around.  Because Randy's a weirdo who goes to a different high school anyways, Julie's friends put pressure on her to ditch Randy and return to Tommy's condescending clutch.

I've got to admit, I've got a soft spot in my heart for films from the '80s that also show off the contemporary music scene, particularly ones set in Los Angeles.  I listened to a ton of west coast punk music, and it's fun to see that represented in film, in a way that seems not to happen as frequently any more.  It was a huge music scene, and perhaps MTV wasn't that open to what was being produced in L.A. at the time, and there seem to have been quite a few people in that music scene that were making films as well as enjoying the music.  In general, the soundtrack is pretty amazing (although there wasn't really an official soundtrack release, which is another, longer story), and there are scenes in the film showing the Plimsouls performing, whom you might know from their smash hit, "A Million Miles Away."

This movie is also notable for being a very early Nicolas Cage movie.  Yes, he's pretty weird here, but he's supposed to be a punk rocker, which were regarded as aliens at the time.  It's interesting watching movies of this vintage, as the dynamic seems to have flipped.  If you made this film today, the popped collar crew would have been the villains (instead of merely being the normal, popular kids), and the punks would be the heroes, instead of the weirdos that the normal kid will have to learn to accept.  Or not.  It's really up to them whether or not the punks are going to be allowed to survive, or are just going to be the recipients of repeated beatings by the football team.  But at least "Valley Girl" is honest.  When Julie asks her dad for advice about which boy she ought to be with, she asserts that popularity does matter, even if her heart doesn't feel that way, and that her friends can't be persuaded otherwise, and that she's jeopardizing her future by not trying to "marry up," in a way.

I really enjoyed "Valley Girl."  It hits some sweet spots - the '80s punk/new wave music, the driving tour of Hollywood at nighttime, and gonzo Nic Cage.  The plot is time-tested and box office approved, and still works, even under a new coat of paint.  Part of the appeal here is nostalgia, part is time-travelling into a weird world where Cage is considered hunky, and part is just laughing at vapid valley-speak.  But "Valley Girl" hums along, and is a pretty tight film.  You could do worse if you were digging through your lost collection of VHS tapes and stumbled across this one.

3.5 / 5 - TV (HD)

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