Monday, October 12, 2015

80's Watch: Valley Girl (1983)

I was 11-ish when Valley Girl (1983) hit cinemas, and didn't wind up seeing the movie until circa early 1995 on VHS.  I have almost no memory of that 90's-era viewing, and it wasn't just the case of "Red Dog"we were going through.

Unfortunately, its safe to say that Valley Girl is not a movie for me.  That's fine.  It was never aimed at me as an 11 year old, a 20 year old dude of the 90's nor was it ever supposed to be watched by a 40-something me.

I mostly see the movie as an interesting artifact of the era, but it's not like the movie was reflective of much more than a very regionally specific view into kind of dull high-schoolers with an after-school-special obsession with popularity.  I don't like to use the term "shallow", but if I had difficulty remembering the film, perhaps it's because it's hard to get past the notion that both the main characters and A Plot of the movie wouldn't even really get your shoes particularly wet were you to wade through them.

In 2015, the movie is remembered for three things:

  • A killer 1980's soundtrack that didn't match Top 40 radio, but helped bands crack the Top 40
  • The introduction of Valley-Talk, especially for young women of the mid-80's, forgotten by the 90's except in the Poochie-ification of some characters, and which morphed into the ultra-annoying trend of up-talk by 2008 
  • Bringing the world Nic Cage in his first starring role

It's not too hard to figure that, the prior year, someone saw Fast Times at Ridgemont High and decided to race another episodic teen-story into development.  Fast Times had opened the door for a more frank look at masturbating teens and their hilariously dopey ways, a trend which would culminate in Eugene Levy walking in on his son and a pie by 2000.

During the production of Valley Girl, it seems someone forgot that the multitude of little character arcs in Fast Times were part of a larger whole, not just extra scenes tacked onto the A Plot.  And, here, we get at least three storylines in addition to the "will the vapid mall rat go for the sociopath or Nic Cage?" overall arc.  There's a tacked on storyline about Friend A competing sexually for a grocery delivery boy with her mother.*  Another unresolved storyline about Pee-Wee Hermann's girlfriend sleeping with the sociopath, feeling guilty about it, and then....  nada.  And kind of a rough storyline around the titular Valley Girl's dad realizing he's a dad and his daughter is growing up, which resolves in him getting high to cope.

The weird thing is how non-specific and undeveloped our lead character feels.  Julie Richman is as much a blank slate at the beginning of the film as she is at the end.  She literally sits around saying out loud "I have a real problem" in multiple scenes, pondering over the movie's inevitable outcome, but something she never actually resolves for herself.  Instead, Nic Cage shows up and beats up the sociopath and grabs Julie as a prize, and you get the feeling maybe Julie was totally fine with any old outcome to her problem up to and including a third party showing up and walking off with her.  Her challenge is whether she'll keep up her "rep" at school, a concept with which, for good or ill, I still see as a construct of movies and TV more than anything I think actual teens worry about all that much in reality.

I dunno.  Maybe California is different.  But the movie is so far removed from anything resembling high school, including our high school characters all looking 30 if they're a day (the sociopath high schooler literally was 30 at the time of the film's release), it's hard to see the movie as much more than a hastily assembled and mostly forgettable product of its time.

I watched the movie in chunks over three nights, and kept waiting for the spark of genius that has made the movie last this long rear its head.  But, I never really saw it.  I also have no particular familiarity with the geography and social norms of the various areas of LA, and the movie doesn't really do much to catch you up.  Moreover, we never learn anything about why Nic Cage is such a daring choice other than that he doesn't go to Julie's school, which...  really?  I mean, aside from some light fetishization of The Other, there really isn't a lot of suggestion what the deal is.

But it does include a pre-Real Genius Michelle Meyrink, which is kind of interesting, I guess.

Again, I am not, and never have been, the audience for this movie.  I get that it was a slumber party favorite for a generation.  It is just not my thing.

*late edit - this is particularly confusing as it muddies the class warfare situation that was already pretty confusing.  Why is grocery boy okay?  Because he's from a certain bounded area?  I don't understand.


J.S. said...

I can only assume that you have reviewed every other movie and this was the last one left for you to watch.

The League said...

If I knew why I watched everything I watched, I'd be in far greater control of my own life.