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Valley Girl (1983)

August 11th, 2008 · 10 Comments

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Synopsis
Winding down a shopping spree at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, Julie (Deborah Foreman) reports on her social situation to friends Suzi (Michelle Meyrink), Loryn (Elizabeth Daily) and Allyson (Camille Calvet). When her ex Tommy (Michael Bowen) corners her on the escalator, Julie reads him the riot act: “It’s like I’m totally not in love with you anymore, Tommy. I mean, it’s so boring!” At the beach, Julie catches the eye of a punk rocker from Hollywood, Randy (Nicolas Cage). His buddy Fred (Cameron Dye) overhears the girls talking about a party that night in the Valley. “I’m not in the mood to go to the Valley,” Randy responds.

Before heading to the party, Julie checks in with her parents (Frederic Forrest and Colleen Camp), ‘60s radicals who have gone from peace marches in Washington to running a health food diner in the suburbs. At the party, Suzi finds herself competing for the attention of a boy she likes with her stepmother (Lee Purcell). Tommy tries to take revenge on his ex by getting it on with Loryn. Randy and Fred show up and try their best to mingle with the girls from the suburbs. Randy locks eyes with Julie and strikes up a conversation. Love at first sight is interrupted when Julie’s ex returns to the party and throws the punks out.

Randy returns to the party, sneaking into the bathroom to get some time alone with Julie. With her friend Stacey (Heidi Holicker) in tow, he takes her to his world in Hollywood to hang out in a dive club. The couple becomes inseparable, but Julie’s friends are not supportive. “You know, Tommy’s going to look real good after six groddie bus rides in Hollywood.” With prom approaching, peer pressure takes effect and Julie breaks it off with her punk rocker. Randy drowns his grief with his grungy ex (Tina Theberge) but hearing his and Julie’s song in a club – “A Million Miles Away” by The Pimsouls – he decides to put in appearance at the prom.

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Production history
Frank Zappa’s satirical tune “Valley Girl” – featuring vocals by his 14-year-old daughter Moon Unit – was the only single from the avant-garde musician to ever crack Billboard’s Top 40. It became a phenomenon in the summer of 1982, spawning merchandise and landing on the cover of Time Magazine. Universal, United Artists and even Norman Lear approached Zappa with offers to make a movie, which the musician thought Moon Unit would naturally star in. Nothing came of the idea. Zappa’s reaction to the fad was, “It was a joke. It just goes to show that the American public loves to celebrate the infantile. I mean, I don’t want people to act like that. I think Valley Girls are disgusting.”

Writers-producers Wayne Crawford & Andrew Lane saw gold anyway and without Zappa’s song or his approval, cranked out a screenplay in ten days. Securing investors for a movie, the writers realized they didn’t know much about teenage girls. Lane asked a friend named Martha Coolidge to read the script. Coolidge had attended grad school at NYU Institute of Film and Television and came to Los Angeles in 1976 to intern with director Robert Wise. She’d directed a feature in Toronto called City Girl, the producers of which had run out of money. Coolidge was editing it on her own, living in a room over a friend’s garage when Lane asked her to direct Valley Girl.

Coolidge recalls, “Wayne Crawford and Andy Lane had this great script which reminded me of Romeo and Juliet. And I came in and said I’ve really got to differentiate the Valley from Hollywood because there really is a kind of spiritual difference, one being more urban and more hardcore, and the other being more suburban. And put in the scene where they fell in love and put in the scene where they break up. Those two scenes weren’t in the picture.” The financiers Crawford & Lane had found were worried about a woman directing their teen exploitation flick. They made Coolidge vow to show naked breasts four times during the movie. She replied that wasn’t a problem as long as she could do it her way.

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Coolidge convinced NYU classmate Frederick Elmes to serve as cinematographer and her friend Mary Delia Javier – set decorator for Apocalypse Now – to be production designer. To obtain wardrobe, crew members raided their own closets. To star, Coolidge liked Judd Nelson and Eric Stoltz. With Nelson unavailable, 18-year-old Nicolas Cage was cast in his first leading role, opposite Cameron Dye. With a production budget of $325,000, Valley Girl commenced filming October 1982 in Los Angeles. The entire movie was shot in 20 days. Coolidge recalls, “Almost everything was made with one take. The most was three. It was a movie I had no extra film, so we had to really be ready and really do it right when we did it.”

While Amy Heckerling lost her battle to fill the soundtrack of Fast Times At Ridgemont High with punk and New Wave, Coolidge cast Josie Cotton (singing “Johnny Are You Queer?”) and The Plimsouls (performing ”A Million Miles Away”) in the movie. X had been approached to appear, but was worried about alienating their fans in the Valley. Coolidge was listening to KROQ when she heard a song she felt would be perfect for her movie. All she remembered were the words “melt with you.” Singing it to music supervisor Michael Papali, he tracked down the tune, “I Melt With You” by Modern English. The song hadn’t gone anywhere on the pop charts, but exploded after being used in Valley Girl.

When executive producers Thomas Coleman and Mark Rosenblatt saw a work print, they were so ecstatic that Coolidge had made a real movie, they turned down bids from the major studios and released the film themselves, even renting a billboard on Sunset Boulevard. One person not happy with Valley Girl was Frank Zappa. He sought $100,000 for “false designation of origin, unfair competition and dilution of trademark.” One month before Valley Girl was released, a federal judge ruled against Zappa, finding that there would be no confusion between his song and the film. Andy Lane responded, “He did have something to do with creating the fad, but the song did not create the persona.”

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Opening in April 1983, Valley Girl was dismissed by most critics at the time, but grew into one of the more profitable movies ever made, grossing $17 million in the U.S. Coolidge became one of a handful of women directing feature films. She recalls, “This movie was made with a lot of love, a lot of generosity. Enormous number of people worked free and those that were paid were basically working for free. It was a chance for everyone and all the crew members to make a movie that they were proud of and that really depicted a time, certain time in history which we had all loved and participated in. And I knew that movies do preserve the culture that we live in and I think that this movie has really shown that.”

Opinion

The premise behind this movie is so old – teen love from the wrong side of the tracks – that Peter Case of The Plimsouls suggested their tune “The Oldest Story In The World” as an alternate title. But Valley Girl is a classic because of how well it captures the period it was made, a time before punk rock in Los Angeles went up in a puff of pyrotechnic smoke detonated by heavy metal hair bands. You couldn’t find a better cast, cooler tunes or a more heartfelt approach to make this movie today, even with twenty times the money Martha Coolidge had. Her first time really out of the gate, she delivered the best film of her career.

Instead of making a visual parody based on Zappa’s silly pop hit, Wayne Crawford & Andrew Lane took the plights of their teenage characters to heart, while Coolidge colored the moods of the film with those of her own life. The punk and New Wave soundtrack is about as authentic as you could hope for – without this movie, “Melt With You” would never have been heard again, much less become the anthem of a generation – while Nicolas Cage turns in an inspired performance as a geek in love. Equally impressive are the adults, with Frederic Forrest & Colleen Camp a riot as Julie’s Age of Aquarius parents, and Lee Purcell sexy and sharp as a would-be Mrs. Robinson.

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Noel Murray at The Onion A.V. Club writes, “Before John Hughes became the auteur of mature teen angst, Cage and Foreman’s romance had a reputation as the best the genre had to offer (a title that rightly should have gone to Fast Times At Ridgemont High). Valley Girl holds up pretty well, thanks to Cage, some anthropologically valuable shots of shopping malls and the Sunset Strip, and the sensitive illustration of adolescent self-consciousness provided by director Martha Coolidge. It almost doesn’t matter that Cage and Foreman’s differences seem ridiculously slight; what matters is that they feel like they’re being judged.”

Valley Girl is one of those quintessential 80s flicks that actually stands up pretty well over time, and that’s because it isn’t really about Valley-speak or hot trends, although there’s plenty of that in the mix. It’s about two people that want to be together, even though everyone tells them they can’t, and the agony that all of this implies. It’s probably not the deepest or most profound telling of this oft-utilized theme, but it didn’t need to be. As purely an entertainment piece, the unique blend of music, wardrobe, and kooky characters sets it apart enough to have its own special flavor,” writes Vince Leo at QWipster’s Movie Reviews.

Rebecca Taylor at DVD Active writes, “Two decades after its release, Valley Girl certainly offers major nostalgia value, if nothing else, for some viewers. The fashion, the music and the vernacular are pure early ‘80s goodness. But because the film relies on a classic star crossed lovers story and Cage and Foreman exhibit abundant chemistry in their scenes together, Valley Girl retains a certain freshness and originality that makes it much more than just simply another 80s teen flick … I have seen it too many times to count and to me it is as much a masterpiece of cinema as The Breakfast Club, or any of the other 80s teen films that have gained mythical status in the public consciousness.”

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Coming of age · Cult favorite · Drunk scene · Father/daughter relationship · High school · Music · Unconventional romance

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mrs. Thuro's Mom // Aug 11, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    I always felt that this told a very old story in a fresh and interesting way. It is very distinct in the time and place it uses, but it is still fun to watch. Too bad Nicolas Cage hasn’t been able to make better choices in recent years.

  • 2 christian // Aug 11, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    I never liked this film and really disliked Cage’s character. I see why many women love it tho…

  • 3 Rich // Aug 11, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    Old enough to have seen it when it came out, and it was pretty good. Mind you, I had no taste and loved Porky’s too, so make of that what you will. :-) I’m not sure I could watch it now, but it would be a great exercise in “oh my god” whenever the 80’s seemed too heavy. Definitely a nostalgia flick.

  • 4 Moviezzz // Aug 12, 2008 at 7:12 am

    Another great review.

    One question, was it really dismissed by critics at the time? I remember Siskel and Ebert loving the film.

    Now I’m going to have “A Million Miles Away” in my head all day.

  • 5 Scott // Aug 12, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    This one has been on my queue FOREVER. Never made it to the top. Guess that’ll have to change. Spaced: Disc Two is gonna have to wait.

    Scott

  • 6 Marilyn // Aug 13, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    I love this film. I think one of the reasons it speaks especially well to women is that a woman directed it. Martha Coolidge got all the details right – the way Julie plays with make-up, trying to see herself as edgy; the way a stepmother and daughter might awkwardly talk over each other in a competitive situation’ the way Loryn would act after Tommy used her; the way all the girls pile onto the bed like a bunch of puppies when Skipper calls Susie. These moments really resonate with women, we’ve lived them.

  • 7 Joe Valdez // Aug 13, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    Mrs. Thuro’s Mom: There is a strong blueprint here for making a teen movie, and it’s not to rip off Shakespeare. Document your place, time and characters honestly, something this latest crop of teen sex comedies have apparently forgotten how to do. On a side note, I’m always happy when we agree on movies.

    Christian: Today “Randy” would probably be labeled a stalker, depending on how cute he was to the girl he was following around. Personally, I really don’t need to “like” a character though. I just need them to be interesting and Cage certainly did that with nearly every outing in the 1980s. Please share with the rest of the class your theory on why you feel women love this movie.

    Rich: I barely hear Porky’s mentioned anymore. Maybe this is just selective recall but I can’t remember the last Porky’s related blog post I read. Fast Times, Valley Girl and maybe The Last American Virgin seem to be the teen flicks of the period with some life to them. Thanks for sharing your comments though!

    Moviezzz: Janet Maslin completely dissed the movie in the New York Times. While I wasn’t able to find out what Siskel & Ebert voted, you’re right that Ebert did write a supportive review. Otherwise, I couldn’t find any articles printed at the time that praised Valley Girl. My next post should get The Plimsouls out of your head, if they’re still in there on Thursday night. Thanks for your props!

    Scott: Welcome and thanks for commenting. I suspect that one’s appreciation of Valley Girl is directly proportional to whether you were old enough to at least ride a bike when it came out, however, I’ll look forward to your thoughts if you can make room on your schedule for it.

    Marilyn: I know those are wonderful observations you made because I missed all of them, other than the way which Coolidge handled Elizabeth Daily’s nude scene, duh. I wish there were more women directing commercial films. I thought Coolidge also brought something offbeat and resonant to Real Genius that a male director focusing on the jokes might not have.

  • 8 CK TheJunction // Aug 14, 2008 at 8:25 am

    Oh my goood,

    Nicolas Cage looks hilarious, I bet he would be ashamed if confronted with that Cover.

    Cheers
    Chan from TheJunction

  • 9 Sharkie // Dec 19, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    Cameron Dye is adorable in his suspenders. All those tight pants on dudes, with tucked in shirts really made me nostalgic . . . and horny!

  • 10 gee murphy // Feb 2, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Valley Girl is one of the greatest movies ever because it got all the little things so right and caught L.A. so perfectly. My favorite scene is when Randy and Fred are looking over the dry landscape and Randy plays a Halloween “Wowee Whistle” like a harmonica. And the music.

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