Director: Martha Collidge
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Deborah Foreman
Release Company: MGA
MPAA Rating: R
I must have watched good portions of Valley Girl at least a half dozen times in the early 1980’s when The Movie Channel showed it three times daily during its feature month and intermittently after that. Others in my small town reservation community likewise were tuning it, since many of the high school girls began using Valleyspeak. Overnight popular items “totally” became “bitchin’” while popular boys turned into “hunks,” and popular girls began practicing new speaking cadences and accents as if preparing for a cultural exchange field trip the San Fernando Valley. Traditionally Arizona follows California trends two years later, so it was an amazing cultural phenomenon to see how fast Martha Coolige’s 1983 project swept through the adolescent community, obviously striking a nerve and putting a face on the “Valley Girl” lifestyle that most had only heard about. If nothing else, Valley Girl stands as a homage to the 1980’s, capturing the period indelibly with an excellent soundtrack with songs by the Plimsouls, Modern English, Psychedelic Furs and others.
The film also established Nicolas Cage as a unique talent to be watched.
In an ensemble feature shot over a twenty-day shoot, Cage stands above his peers with one of his best and most memorable performances. In a sense, Valley Girl stands as his movie debut since he had only a bit part in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and was cast with his real Coppola name. Not wanting to ride the coat tails of his famous uncle (Francis Ford Coppola), he took Nicolas Cage for his film name for the first time and has charted his own course ever since. With touches of sensitivity and shyness, Cage develops Randy as a likeable Hollywood free-spirited punk rocker Romeo, who falls for innocent and totally cute Julie Richman (Deborah Foreman) at first sight. Cage’s traditional over the top craziness is actually largely under control here. It’s all in the details for Cage, so look for the small gestures and facial expressions that give sympathy and reality to his character—a rolling of the eyes when waiting in the restroom for his new found love, blowing on the wax candy pop bottles while gazing over the valley. Cage achieves believable romantic chemistry through the music video montage that may be the second longest screen kiss in history, though not in one take like Notorious.
Mixing Romeo and Juliet with The Graduate, the plot plays out predictably and moralizes to the extreme, making the film more palatable for teens. Contrasting with Randy’s individuality, Julie suffers from the insecurities of wanting to be popular and be just like her snobby pastel pink, credit card toting Sherman Oaks Mall peers. There’s hope for her since she’s recently become bored with her high school dreamboat Tommy (Michael Bowen) and wants something “different,” but can she break away from her pre-selected list of approved high school “hunks.” In case the basic message of being an individual that Randy slams home to Julie at a Hollywood hangout is too subtle, Julie has a heart to heart talk with her former hippie father (Frederick Forrest) that turns into didactic lecture. After all, any sandal wearing, pot smoking, health food owner that went to Woodstock knows all about being “your own person.”
The special edition MGA/UA DVD release, complete with cast and crew interviews and redundant self-serving director’s commentary, would have us believe that Valley Girl ranks as one of the great landmark films of the 1980’s. This is pure hyperbole, but the film certainly contains enough charm to make it a tolerable back-to-school rental for nostalgia sake. Give screenwriters Wayne Crawford and Andrew Lane credit for hiding behind the bushes at the Sherman Oaks Mall to insert authentic Valley Girl language and mentality into the script while the music lends authenticity. Cage does some of his best work here in this formula teen comedy. It’s just not as “totally fantabulous” as its creators make it out to be, but it’s not as intolerable as its detractors maintain. Color it pastel and cute.