Friday, 28 September 2012

Obscurity Files - Valley Girl

When misfit teen Randy (Nicolas Cage) meets Julie at a high school party he wasn't invited to, they instantly feel an attraction despite coming from different worlds. He's a city rat whilst she's the titular Valley Girl, but they try to overcome the peer pressure felt on both sides to embark on a great '80s high school love affair.
Based in part on the infuriating hit song by Frank Zappa's daughter Moon, it's a time capsule in the same vein as Clueless with characters speaking in an exaggerated manner that’s both familiar and horrendously outdated. If you were to wind back Clueless’s "as if"’s by about a decade, you’d arrive at Valley Girl’s "totally"'s and "oh my god!"'s. A reworking of Shakespeare's most famous play, Romeo and Juliet have been replaced by the less romantic sounding Randy and Julie. It's not a strict adaptation of the text, retaining the whole star-crossed lovers bit but updating the dialogue to include the rather annoying 'Valspeak'.

As depictions of '80s teen life goes, this could be the same world as Fast Times at Ridgemont High (a film which also featured a young Nicolas Cage in his previous guise as Nicolas Coppola). It’s a world overrun by teenagers, inhabiting the malls and driving around in their cars. Cage’s Randy is an intense fellow, the type of street kid who would shout out of a moving vehicle “Hey Harvey! I thought you were going to get a mohawk?”. After Julie ditches her loser boyfriend, Tommy, who in her own words is “a total pukeoid”, Randy and Julie’s romance soon blossoms, cut into a montage soundtracked by Modern English’s “I Melt With You”.


Valley Girl has a very cool soundtrack, the likes of which you wouldn’t expect to see on a teen-centric romantic comedy. Full of obscure post-punk bands who you’ve never heard of, the soundtrack really helps to set the film apart from other '80s comedies, most notably the works of John Hughes (although it does share some basic similarities with Pretty in Pink). It’s just another factor that makes Valley Girl a surprisingly odd film that shouldn’t necessarily work, but it does. Spending as much time in California's grubby underground clubs as it does the malls, rather than being drawn with broad strokes, all of the characters have enough nuance that you do care about what happens to them.

Among the supporting cast are Colleen Camp as Julie's mother (despite being a mere 9 years older than her), EG 'Tommy Pickles' Daily as a promiscuous Valley speaker and Michelle Meyrink, who after her brief career in the '80s with notable appearances in Real Genius, Revenge of the Nerds, Joy of Sex and this, could be considered to be the John Cazale of obscure 1980s teen comedies.


If you’re wondering who Julie is, she’s played by Deborah Foreman, a one time winner of Sho West’s Most Promising Newcomer award, whose career just never panned out the way she’d have hoped. Ditching the acting in the early '90s after a series of dodgy looking horrors were the only work she could get, she now runs her own pilates studio, which is about as Valley Girl a career choice as you could get.

As for Nicolas Cage, well he's characteristically charming but also quite dashing in an offbeat '80s dreamboat kind of way. If you're curious about the important matter of what Cage’s hair looks like, he’s sporting a wild, sub-Flock of Seagulls do throughout the film, and during his strangely Bond-like introduction, gets to flick it around after running out of the ocean. He rarely gets to deliver lines with all the trademark Nicolas Cage gusto that has made him a modern day meme machine, with perhaps the exception of one scene at a movie theatre (where Randy tries to win back Julie by doing what amounts to little more than stalking her) which includes one of the greatest Nicolas Cage line readings of all time.

Although populated by teenagers and certainly aimed at that market, Valley Girl doesn't pull punches in order to reach a wider audience. With scenes of swearing and nudity (including the sight of EG Daily, the voice of Tommy Pickles, topless, leading to some confusing feelings), it aims itself at older teens who could better relate to the pains of first love. In one memorable scene where Julie bows to peer pressure and dumps Randy, he responds with the scathing put down, “fuck off, for sure, like totally”.

It may be a high school set Shakespeare adaptation that culminates (where else) at the prom, but Valley Girl is far from formulaic. With a potty mouth and an honest approach to teen sexuality, it’s a refreshingly updated (for its time) re-telling. Cage is a surprisingly effective romantic lead, and its enjoyably obscure soundtrack makes Valley Girl an unconventional entry into the Shakespearean high school sub-genre.

Save from obscurity? YES

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