Female Filmmaker Friday: Valley Girl, 1983 (dir. Martha Coolidge)
The first time I saw Valley Girl, I rented it from Netflix and I watched it three times in a 24-hour period before I returned it. I then immediately bought the DVD. I have seen it countless times (including twice on the big screen!). I just love it so much. It is endlessly watchable.
Valley Girl is essentially Romeo and Juliet, but with a girl from the San Fernando Valley and a boy from Hollywood (at one point on a date they go see Romeo and Juliet at a movie and it is fantastic). The cast of this movie is amazing and Martha Coolidge has a real sense for comedy. Coolidge got her MFA from Tisch, has made several films including Real Genius, Rambling Rose (which scored Oscar nods for real-life mother and daughter Diane Ladd and Laura Dern) and was the President of the D.G.A. at one point. The film was written and produced by Wayne Crawford and Andrew line. It was distributed by Atlantic Releasing, which was one of my favorite distribution houses from the 1980s. There used to be a ton of their films on Netflix, alas they are mostly gone now.
This movie was a breakout hit for star Deborah Foreman, who plays the titular Valley Girl Julie, although it would also prove to be her biggest hit as well. If you like her in this, I recommend you seek out My Chauffeur and April Fool’s Day. Julie is spoiled and vapid to a fault, but she’s also just a teenage girl living in (if you will) a material world and Coolidge and Foreman make sure that she feels like a real girl, and not just a stereotype. Foreman also has excellent comic chops and a grin that will knock your socks off. She’s so charming and likable and I really think it is her performance that carries the film.
One thing I didn’t notice until several viewings was that Julie’s parents are played by Colleen Camp and Frederic Forrest, both of whom were in Apocalypse Now. They are hippies who own a health food store (which Julie thinks is icky; health food hadn’t quite caught on it), who clearly believe in a very liberal upbringing for their daughter. You don’t find out til nearly the end of the film that the two of them only recently got married (meaning they were raising Julie together for 15 or so years without being married). This contrast is so wonderful because it really highlights how new the Valley Girl phenomenon was at the time.
Among Julie friends (and ex-boyfriends) are Michael Bowen as Tommy and Elizabeth Daily as Loryn. Bowen had a few leads and interesting supporting roles throughout the 80s (check out Echo Park), but now mostly shows up as cops (he’s in Jackie Brown among other films). He’s perfect as the 80s rich jock who is really smooth with parents, but an asshole in real life. I think this is an important character because it shows how often the kind of guy who looks “perfect” is in fact a real creep. Elizabeth Daily can also be seen as Dot in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, in Streets of Fire and is the voice of Tommy Pickles in Rugrats. She also gets very naked in this movie. The scene between these two characters is a tough to watch and adds tension to the rest of the movie. It also shows you how often women get blamed in these kind of situations, when we all know it takes two to tango.
I skipped over the party scene where Julie meets Randy (Nicolas Cage), but I will say that it’s one of my favorite teen party scenes in a movies. I like it because the mother is present (she’s the younger stepmother of one of Julie’s friends, only her father has died and now she’s supposed to be like 35 or so and in charge of a 17-year-old girl, but she would much rather ogle teenage boys), because it makes how elaborate the party is make sense. Often in teen movies the teens have managed to orchestrate a party way beyond their means. In this case, it all makes sense because a full-fledged adult has organized everything. It’s a prolonged scene, but it works well and sets up a lot of the tension for the rest of the film. It’s a great introduction for Cage, showcasing his now famous manic energy. I also love when he and his friend Fred (Cameron Dye) take these two delicate flowers to Hollywood. It’s dirty and it looks a little dangerous, but it also looks like way more fun than anything the Valley has to offer.
Valspeak! So I grew up in the middle of nowhere North California (practically Oregon), yet somehow several Valspeak/surfer phrases (gnarly! bogus! radical!) made it into my vocabulary as a child. I still say gnarly on almost a daily basis. Anyways, I love how besotted Julie is with Randy right away and how all her friends just can’t handle it. Unlike in Romeo and Juliet, where Juliet really just has the nurse to talk to about her feelings, Julie has a whole group of friends to hash it out with. And even though she values their opinions, at first she just follows her own feelings. At one point we get to see her parents’ shop (and it’s just as gross and boring as you would think), but Randy comes with a killer grin to match Julie’s and off they go to. . .
. . . the best goddamned date montage of all time (it’s set to I Melt With You!). I love this montage so much. I watch this montage often. Teenagers don’t have much options other than driving around and going to movies and going to the mall and eating burgers and these two crazy kids do all of those things and it is goddamned fantastic. They’re so happy being together and it’s so much fun to watch them.
But then trouble comes in the form of silly teenaged girls. I actually love this scene a lot as well. It feels like a clichéd sleepover, but the thing is, it’s just an accurate sleepover. Junk food and pajamas and curlers and music and gossip. Check, check, check! They’re all open with each other about what they’re feeling, except Loryn who wants to tell Julie what a dick Tommy is, but also doesn’t want to ruin their friendship. Another great moment comes when they start trying on Suzi (Michelle Meyrink)’s stepmother’s lingerie. They are enamored with it, but they don’t quite know how some of it works (holy symbolism Batman!) and Julie covers her face in lipstick (sort of looking like Diane Lane in Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains). The girls start to plant the seeds of doubt in Julie’s mind about Randy and whether he’s worth traveling to Hollywood for two hours on a hot bus from the Valley. Loryn, the voice of reason, says the one thing they’re forgetting: totally gnarly sex! But it also seems like, other than Loryn, none of these girls has ever had sex (there’s a subplot with Suzi and her Stepmom and Skip (David Ensor) wherein Suzi loses her virginity).
Which leads to the heartbreaking breakup of Randy and Julie (and this gem of a line!), after which Randy shows us why Hollywood is so scary and so fucked up. It’s a really dark part of the movie and hints a darker world that should be explored more, though this movie isn’t really the place for it.
But then we get the greatest “I’m gonna get her back!” montage of all time. This sequence is problematic in that Randy’s behavior is not okay in the slightest, and not a little bit stalkery, even if it comes from a place of love. I don’t know how many teenage boys would actually be able to pull of the grand romantic gestures that Randy does, however.
Cameron Dye as Fred is a really great character and is a nice counterpoint to Julie’s friends. While Julie’s friends are all about status and think that they’re helping her by making her think the same way they do, Fred is all about his friend’s happiness – even if that means crashing a prom in the Valley. There’s also a subplot wherein he tries to date Julie’s friend Stacey (Heidi Holicker), but she just can’t handle going outside of her comfort zone quite like Julie.
The prom in this movie is great. Josie Cotton plays, boys spike the bunch, a sad, frumpy teacher gives a sad, awkward speech and the king of the jocks (Tommy) becomes King and Julie becomes Queen and it’s all presented in such a way that it’s ridiculous without it being 100% ridiculed. Randy comes in, saves the day, starts a food fight and rides off in Tommy’s limo with the girl of his dreams while I Melt With You plays. The ending shot is clearly inspired by The Graduate, though Julie and Randy are more sure that they made the right decision than Benjamin and Elaine are.
Posted on October 3, 2014, in Female Filmmaker Friday and tagged 1983, Andrew Lane, Cameron Dye, Colleen Camp, David Ensor, Deborah Foreman, Elizabeth Daily, Frederic Forrest, Heidi Holicker, Martha Coolidge, Michael Bowen, Michelle Meyrink, Nicolas Cage, Valley Girl, Wayne Crawford. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.