Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Directed by: Rachel Lee Goldenberg
The backstory behind 1983’s VALLEY GIRL is an interesting one. The picture was greenlit solely to capitalize on and commodify the “Valley Girl” craze that inspired a new language style, dress code and popular culture first introduced by the Frank and Moon Unit Zappa song of the same name. Despite these corporate-minded beginnings, director Martha Coolidge fashioned a totally tripendiculur, female-centric feature that captured a transitional historic movement for the Southern California scene and a fresh, loose take on “Romeo and Juliet,” only this time featuring preppies and punks.
Director Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s musical, nostalgia-driven spin on Coolidge’s fab flick is a neon-lit, candy-coated teen dream. At its best, this remake amplifies the original narrative’s righteous feminist-friendly streak, delivering a bright, bubbly, breezy portrait of a bygone era. There are also two cameos that conjure good will and timeless commentary about popularity, conformity and identity. But at its worst, there’s a kitschy, synthetic feel that’s neither cleverly acknowledged in the subtext, nor alluded to in a meta “wink-and-nod” context. Though it utilizes two big cinematic pet peeves of mine, overall it’s buoyed by cute charm and smart sentiments.
Goldenberg and screenwriter Amy Talkington (who works from a story by the original screenwriters Andrew Lane and Wayne Crawford) don’t exactly get off on the right foot. They introduce a superfluous wrap around story involving a mother (Alicia Silverstone, a casting callback as an actress who herself pioneered teen speak in the 90’s with CLUELESS) consoling her broken-hearted daughter (Camila Morrone), regaling her with stories of growing up in Sherman Oaks, California. Flashback to 1980-something. It was a time when suburban malls were bursting with cash and clientele, and those over the hill in Hollywood were ruled by the punk rock scene.
High School Senior Julie (Jessica Rothe) yearns for something more than just being her boyfriend Mickey’s (Logan Paul) arm candy. She wants to go to fashion school in New York. Her friends Karen (Chloe Bennet), Loryn (Ashleigh Murray), and Stacey (Jessie Ennis) think she’s crazy. However, they don’t start disapproving of her actions until she meets and crushes on Randy (Josh Whitehouse). He’s a poor punk rock singer in a dive bar band from Hollywood who shows her a whole new world – a romanticized one filled with mosh pits and guitar-licks. As the lovebirds begin to date, Julie’s parents (played by Judy Greer and Rob Huebel) and his pal Jack (Mae Whitman) start chipping away at their burgeoning relationship and Julie’s confidence.
Musical sequences are amongst the film’s strengths. It’s here where color, energy and vibrancy shine through Maya Lieberman’s costume designs, Adam Silver’s saturated, effused cinematography, and Mandy Moore’s fun choreography, which tweens and teens will try to learn. There’s a sense of uniqueness in these gloriously over-the-top numbers, from the scene in the mall where a chorus bops to the GoGo’s “We Got The Beat” to the aerobics class mash-up where Julie and her friends sing a medley of Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough,” Madonna’s “Material Girl,” Hall and Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” and Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.” There’s also a lovely, subtle visual metaphor in Randy’s electricity coming on just as his romance with Julie sparks.
That said, there are a few things that don’t strike the right chord. While it’s great this iteration does away with the gratuitous nudity and sex romp storylines from the original, which always felt shoehorned in (because they were begrudgingly added by Coolidge after producers called for more nudity), some new scenarios don’t fare so well either. Talkington’s new character creation Karen reinforces tired sniping, mean girl stereotypes. Loryn, who had larger significance and contributions in the ’83 film, is barely one-dimensional. Questionable treatment of body positivity arises in the case of Stacey, who’s forced to wear her street clothes on the beach – not swimsuits or bikinis like her pals. Maybe a joke about not bringing her swimsuit was cut? We’ll never know. Plus, after ending on the exact perfect note, there’s an unnecessary ANIMAL HOUSE-inspired, or rather uninspired, credit sequence, alerting us to where these fake characters are now.
The sequence where Randy and Julie drive through Hollywood after ditching Mickey’s parentally supervised house party seems to best summarize this film’s aim. The filmmakers use second unit footage from the original, shot-for-shot, only inserting the new actors in the cutaways. Shots of the vintage vehicles on the street, the old signage around Sunset, and the nightlife that crowds the sidewalks add transportive texture. It’s a fine homage. However, we believed Nicolas Cage would know these types of folk. Whitehouse, not so much. We then become acutely aware of the dichotomy this film presents: it wants to establish its own exclusive identity when its stuck singing the same tunes as before.
VALLEY GIRL is now playing in select Drive-Ins and available on VOD platforms.