For the 35th Anniversary of Valley Girl, Shout! Factory has released a totally tubular version of a film on Blu-ray. Now that I've written my contractually required Valley-speak joke, you'll be spared the rest of this article. The film was released originally in 1983 and quickly got lumped in with the other "teen films" of the era. The film, fairly or unfairly part of that group, has tended to disappear from popular culture from that era. It's a footnote to a much larger career by Nicolas Cage and stars the never-became-bigger stars like Elizabeth Daily and Deborah Foreman. The film has become more noted for its music than its actual plot. It makes lists of film geeks but it either doesn't resonate enough among younger generations or doesn't get enough attention. This under-the-radar film was released on October 16 from Shout Select.
Let's try to put the film in context of the era. The 1980s and the explosion of cable television, music videos and VHS tapes helped the horror and the teen comedy genres expand exponentially. Much like you would break horror films into sub-genres like slasher, ghost, demon, monster, etc. - it benefits the teen comedy to be divided out too. This film is not to be confused with the "Boob Comedies" - the films like Porky's, Spring Break, Hot Dog: The Movie, and even Revenge of the Nerds had flimsy plots of teens usually on vacation or at high school or college that combined rebellion against authority with the need to see female nudity. There are the teen films that aim at telling a story of teen life without as much nudity but still aiming at that teen humor like Risky Business, Rivers Edge, Footloose, The Outsiders, and Say Anything. Then there were the films that did a good job of catching the zeitgeist of the era perfectly. That's where I put most of my favorite comedies from the 1980s - Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Last American Virgin, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and The Breakfast Club are all still films that capture the feeling of those high school days for me. Three of those I listed have remained in the popular culture vocabulary for over 30 years. Valley Girl fits comfortably in this group and deserves some more attention.
The plot of the film derives much of its inspiration from Shakespeare (as did another well received teen film, Clueless) and other classical sources. The movie is at its heart a Romeo and Juliet story or better yet it's Romeo and Juliet as it was translated through West Side Story. In this case, the New Wave soundtrack replaces the musical aspect of the film. This is the meeting of two teen cultures in the L.A. Valley in 1983. Julie (Deborah Foreman) is your typical Valley Girl - popular at school, living the comfortable life at home, and has a rich group of friends. After dropping her preppy boyfriend, Julie meets Randy (Nicolas Cage), a punk in look and attitude from Hollywood. The two cultures had found an interesting crossover in the music scene in Los Angeles in this era and it is reflected as the two initially mix like when the peanut-butter guy runs into the chocolate guy in the commercials. The clash of cultures and clothing styles and even language is won over by teen love. Their friends are disapproving. Their families don't understand. And after some hiccups, true love finds a common ground.
Director Martha Coolidge handles the subject matter well. She is working with an amazing cast - Deborah Foreman should have been a bigger star and Nicolas Cage was given room to really inhabit the character to the point that it feels as fleshed out as any character he has played. The plot doesn't fall into the trite "everyone wants sex" story. What strikes me now is how well it realistically handles the peer pressure of being a teen. These characters are influenced by their friends like real teens still our through till today. The friends of Julie and Randy react as you would expect when faced with a friend dating someone from a culture they don't know. Maybe now that I'm older I also appreciate that Julie's parents aren't completely clueless and stereotypical. They struggle to understand their daughter and they want the best for her. They don't eat up much screen time but they stand out as characters that also ring true.
The film is noted for its soundtrack. And yep, it captures the time better than any of the John Hughes' films and on par with Fast Times and Last American Virgin. A good teen film doesn't just try to force a group of songs into a film just to get them into the film. Martha Coolidge understands how to place the songs against the two different cultures and what each would be listening to and what songs would crossover between the two.
It even allows the two to argue over who has better music - one of my favorite parts. There's a scene where Randy sneaks into a party to talk to Julie and I connected to the music in that scene - they see each other across the room as "Eyes of a Stranger" by the Payolas is playing. It captures that moment without words needed. The crossover they find is with the Plimsouls' "A Million Miles Away". A time when we feel like they are destined to be separated and all of a sudden through music we see the connection - a group that combined the punk and New Wave influences with meaningful lyrics to the characters. And the film pays off with Modern English's "I Melt With You" as the two combine their lives and friends.
Does this film pass the 2018 test? Maybe if you watch it for what it purports to be - a classic story of love overcoming all the odds. If you see that Julie tells him that she doesn't want him, Randy sneaking into the party and waiting for hours for her (true love has patience) and then again after she breaks up with him, he stalks her everywhere she goes until she relents to see him. These scenarios can be overanalyzed but you are missing the point of the fiction at that point.
The package is totally worth it for the extras alone. The film looks gorgeous. There are new shorts - "In Conversation with Martha Coolidge, E.G. Daily, and Heidi Holicker", "Greetings from the San Fernando Valley" is a history of the Valley, and interviews from a 20-year reunion. There's an older audio commentary, a 20-year retrospective, and a piece on the soundtrack.
Shout! Factory has done a great job with Valley Girl: Collector's Edition and I hope that it finds a new generation of fans. You won't be disappointed in this film. There's only one question left that the film answers - "Is this in 3-D?" / "No, but your face is."