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Valley Girl (A Movie Review)

Updated: Aug 29, 2021


Starring Jessica Rothe, Josh Whitehouse, Jessie Ennis, Ashleigh Murray, Chloe Bennet, Logan Paul, Mae Whitman, Mario Revolori, Rob Huebel, Judy Greer, Alex Lewis, Alex MacNicoll, Danny Ramirez, Andrew Kai, Allyn Rachel, Randall Park, Thomas Lennon, Peyton List, Bill Bottkamp, Eric Garcetti, EG Daily and Alicia Silverstone.

Screenplay by Amy Talkington.

Directed by Rachel Goldenberg.

Distributed by Orion Pictures. 103 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Valley Girl is a jukebox musical version of a little-remembered ‘80s cult film loosely based on a stupid novelty song by the same name by Frank Zappa. The movie is probably best remembered for being Nicolas Cage’s first starring role. Honestly, I saw it early in the VHS video boom and remember almost nothing about it. As I recall, I thought it was okay but nothing great, however it does have a cult following that swears by it, so perhaps I should give it another chance.

I’m not sure this reboot will motivate me to do that, though, although it is fun and has some terrific actors, singing and dancing. They are trying hard to capture something special, but this feels like a Disney Channel movie with Members Only jackets, boomboxes and Wang Chung covers.

The story is even told as a reminiscence, starting in the present day in which a Valley mom tells her heartbroken teenaged daughter a story of young love and class struggles in the 1980s, and the daughter comes to realize what a cool life her mom had before settling into suburban homemaking. This story is told through flashbacks, occasionally returning to the present for the mom and child to discuss what was happening.

The mother is played by ‘90s icon Alicia Silverstone (who is not listed in the credits), though frankly she is about 5-10 years too young for the role, depending on when in the 1980s the film is supposed to take place, which is left very hazy. Some things they show in the movie took place in the early ‘80s, some in the mid, some towards the end. Either way, Silverstone was just barely 13 as the decade came to a close.

As someone who is closer in age to the mom than the daughter, I can say they totally got the ‘80s wrong – wrong fashions (not bright or loud enough, no shoulder pads), wrong hairdos (not big enough), wrong decors (not kitschy enough), wrong cars (many look to be from the ‘60s or ‘70s), wrong products (Tang???!!!), wrong stores. The male lead also had several tattoos. They even had the mom explaining her interest in the guy by saying that “Tattoos were edgy then.” They were more than edgy; they were nearly non-existent. Tattoos were not considered cool, or “edgy” even, until the ‘90s.

They even almost immediately jettison the infamous “Valley Girl” lingo: “Totally,” “Fer Shure,” “Like, oh my God!” “Tubular!” “Grody…” “Gag me with a spoon!” After using these sayings often at the start, they are quickly nearly forgotten, only occasionally returning to be used in a derisive way. However, for the most part, the people in this film could be any teens, talking anywhere, at any time, so the Valley Girl title seems a bit of a waste.

By the way, the film gets its basic premise completely off. The Valley was never a place full of “vapid, rich… people” as one of the characters suggests. It was always the lower middle-class part of the LA area.

In fact, the only part of the movie that came close to catching the look of the 80s was a costume party in which everyone dressed as their favorite ‘80s celeb, which sort of makes sense because to an extent Valley Girl is a film of post-millennials playing ‘80s, but not quite connecting with the decade. It feels like it was written by someone who has read about the ‘80s, but not really experienced it.

For example, the “punk” boy serenades the Valley girl with versions of such completely un-punk songs as The Cars’ “You Might Think” and Madonna’s “Crazy for You.” (Though, I will admit, the film gives that second ballad a nicely hardened rock sheen.) In fact, this same guy refers to the legendary New York music club as “CBGB” when anyone who was alive at the time would have called it “CBGB’s.” CBGB is the name you get on Wikipedia, not the name it was called by. I was in the joint’s infamous bathroom, so I should know.

Still, the music is the best reason to see Valley Girl, with the cast singing some of the bigger hits of the decade, mixed in with some original recordings of the songs. The redo’s of the songs are interesting in a theatrical way – retooling “Kids in America” as a contemplative ballad, giving “Space Age Love Song” an emo vibe, doing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” as a massive theatrical dance number.

The only time it really doesn’t work is in a yoga studio dance battle mashup which merges such varied songs as “Just Can’t Get Enough,” “Material Girl,” “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” and “Tainted Love” into one giant mess. However, these musical numbers also get forgotten fairly quickly, turning Valley Girl into a more basic clash-of-the-cultures romantic comedy-drama, before veering back into musical territory in the last half hour or so.

Okay, let’s face it, despite the fact that Valley Girl takes place in the 1980s, the target audience is not people like me who grew up in the 1980s. This film is ‘80s in the same way that Riverdale is ‘60s, a hopped-up, sexier, new millennium take on an old property. People who see the new Valley Girl are much more likely to watch The CW than TMC. They are people who never saw MTV playing music videos, like those of so many of the songs used here. The older folks, frankly, would probably just watch the original if they wanted to see this story.

So, the question is, taking it for what it is; does the new version of Valley Girl work as a romance? Umm, kinda…. The lead actors – Jessica Rothe and Josh Whitehouse – are very good as actors and singers and bring more to their characters than the screenplay often offers. The singing and dancing are energetic and the location shooting – though sometimes looking a bit too modern – is vibrant and colorful.

I just never really bought the whole sweet girl falls for boy from the wrong-side-of-the-tracks storyline. Also, the film can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a comedy or a drama, and it doesn’t quite work on either level.

Mostly, though, I’m just not sure why this slight story needed to be revisited. In one scene, a supporting character asks about slam dancing, “What’s the point?” The tossed off but supposed to be oh-so-clever answer was “Pointlessness.” You can’t argue with that, but frankly that exchange describes the new version of Valley Girl just a bit too cleanly.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: May 7, 2020.

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