Grackles review Valley Girl
Directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg
Reviewed by Kat Moore and Kendra L. Vanderlip
The totally tubular 80’s cult classic Valley Girl (1983) was directed by Martha Coolidge, who also directed other 80’s classics such as Real Genius and Joy of Sex. Her film Rambling Rose (1991) won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Director, as well as garnered Diane Ladd an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress, and an Oscar nomination for lead actress Laura Dern. In 2002, Coolidge became the first female president for the Director’s Guild of America. The independently produced Valley Girl was her breakout film, and helped launch the career of Nicolas Cage, as well as put Modern English’s “Melt with You” at the top of the charts. In Valley Girl, a girl from the valley, Julie (Deborah Foreman), falls for Randy (Nicolas Cage), a punk boy from Hollywood. Julie’s friends disapprove and want her to get back together with her former boyfriend, the popular jock, Tommy (Michael Bowen). The film is a teen romantic comedy of star-crossed lovers, and, much like Romeo and Juliet, their friends hope to keep them apart. However, it all culminates in a happy ending of teen lust and love.
Valley Girl (2020) is a remake of the cult classic and is directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg. Goldenberg also directed the film Unpregnant, Adoption, and episodes of The Mindy Project as well as other television series. The remake of Valley Girl has a similar premise. However, this time it is told through flashbacks. Grown-up Julie (Alicia Silverstone) tells her just broken-up-with-daughter about her first love, Randy (Josh Whitehouse). In the flashbacks, young valley girl Julie (Jessica Rothe) falls for Randy, the punk boy from Hollywood. Julie’s friends don’t approve and want her to get back together with Mickey (Logan Paul). This Valley Girl is a jukebox musical.
Kat Moore: I really love the original. I love the original Julie, and Nic Cage as Randy. And Julie’s hippie dippie parents played by Frederic Forest and Colleen Camp. I was a child in the 80s, and I thought everything was so cool and magical. I loved MTV and teen movies. I used to sing Modern English’s “I Melt with You” to my terrier mutt, Spot. Even though I was in Memphis, Tennessee, I said things like “totally, for sure,” and sounded like I was from the valley. I was prepared to totally hate the remake. Yet, I didn’t, at least not completely. I wonder if it’s the loneliness from lockdown, or just pure nostalgia, but I enjoyed watching the remake, even when they butchered some of my favorite 80’s songs. The remake even pushes a somewhat feminist point of view where Julie doesn’t want to only fall in love and marry, she wants a life, a career, she wants to blaze trails like Sally Ride. However, I still think the original is vastly superior.
Kendra L. Vanderlip: I am different than you in the sense that I was only recently introduced to the original movie when a local theater showed it a few months ago. I fell in love with the original. Nicolas Cage’s Randy stole my heart with his punk demeanor and Deborah Foreman’s Julie jumped off the screen with her totally tubular fashion. I agree with you that the original is superior still, in a way that I wasn’t maybe expecting. A remake like this, with loose retellings and playing on the tropes we know and love really is my cup of tea when it comes to movies. But I struggled with a lot in the remake. Like you, I appreciated (and applauded) the more feminist re-branding of this movie/musical; especially the shout-out to Sally Ride who represented the strides woman were making in that era. But in the gloss and glamor of modernizing this story, I thought some of the crucial elements of this movie were lost. The introduction of POC and LGBTQ+ characters felt under-developed, and not given enough screen time to make their integration into the movie seem more than a maneuver that checked boxes for executives. But the biggest hurdle for me in this movie was Logan Paul, whose actions a few years ago of filming dead bodies in the famous Japanese “Suicide Forest” caused this movie to be shelved for two years before its release.
Kat: A loud yes to everything you just said. Before addressing the remake, I do want to acknowledge that the original was ultra-white, and didn’t even try to diversify, but yes, the remake absolutely felt like it was checking off boxes for diversity instead of being truly inclusive. I wish someone other than Logan Paul had played Mickey. At least Mickey wasn’t a likable character, and he was a very flat one note character, so it was easy to ignore him. Many of the scenes with Mickey dragged, and I would find myself reaching to scroll through my phone instead of staying engaged with the film. I did love Jack (Mae Whitman). I loved her singing Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” and kissing the short haired punk girl in her first scene. But I wanted more. I was hoping she was going to be like Fred (Cameron Dye) from the original, and that a queer romance would bloom between her and Stacy. We did get light flirty one-liners between Jack and Karen (Chloe Bennett), but not enough for it to be more than just another checked box. Ashleigh Murray, the only BIPOC in the main cast, was excellent as Loryn. Her singing was the stand out in the movie. I also loved her dressed as Dolly Parton for the party, and her obsession with Janet Jackson (Janet wasn’t yet a billboard topper in 1983, but more critique on the film’s timeline later). But, it was still a very white movie, about upper middle-class white girls. So much more could have been done and should have been done. I think Ashleigh would have made a better Julie—her talent alone is enough to place her as lead. And Mae Whitman, a young woman, should’ve been Randy. That’s a film I’d love to see. Though, I did find Whitehouse adorable, and thought he captured the gentleness that the original Randy had.
Kendra: I kind of agree with you about the potential missed opportunity to queer this movie by casting Mae Whitman as Randy. It’s not a choice I would have made, because maybe that strays too far from the original narrative of the movie, but the more and more I think about it, it could have been a fantastic risk because Whitman captivated my attention, and the role she had gave her very little screen time. I didn’t like Whitehouse in the role of Randy and felt like there needed to be someone with a lot more charisma in that role. His biggest strength was the tenderness that he brought to the screen, but he felt like a watered-down version of the character I fell in love with a few months ago. I was especially sad when they modified one of his most iconic lines during the break-up scene between Whitehouse and Rothe’s characters by editing it for PG-13 standards. All that being said, I did end up enjoying the music, which was a pleasant change from the original. Not all of the musical scenes were knockouts, but the first one of The Go-Go’s “We’ve Got the Beat” was a strong introduction to the movie, and I was especially moved by the cast rendition of Queen’s “Under Pressure” in the preparation for prom, which felt timely for our current situation as well.
Kat: What’s funny is that the original did not get an R rating based on the F-bomb. Nor was it for E.G. Daily’s breasts. Sixteen Candles, which came out a year later (and has its own issues with racism and sexism), had a topless shower scene and the F-bomb, yet it was rated PG. The original’s explicit talk between the girls about a certain male body part garnered it the R rating. However, had PG-13 existed in 1983, the original probably would have been given that rating instead of R. I do agree about the flaws with the new Randy, but I feel like it was more the script and not the actor. I also thought Rothe gave a solid performance. I danced all the way through “We Got the Beat,” and appreciated the well-done version of “Under Pressure,” but I hated the Cyndi Lauper montage. Murray’s voice was great, I just didn’t like the style, and I have always felt that “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was a teen girl revolt and not an acquiescence to marriage and suburban domesticity. While the song did turn into teen girl rebellion when Rothe sang the gorgeous break about wanting to be the girl in the sun, I was put off by the other girls singing it as an ode to their own vapidity. The girls in the original said things like “total pukoid,” and “tripendicular,” but there was something more inward in each of them. E. G. Daily’s Loryn was the girl who was sexual, but also complex. When she sleeps with Tommy right after Julie dumps him, she is seeking value. She’s insecure and wants the hot popular guy to like her. She didn’t want a one-night stand, and she hoped Tommy would make her his girlfriend. While of course that isn’t feminist, it is true. It is something girls struggle with especially in a world that places so much emphasis on the female body and ties a girl’s worth to her proximity to a man. What I mean is that Loryn wasn’t sneaky and wasn’t trying to hurt Julie. She was an insecure girl, and her actions hurt herself. We see her regret and shame afterwards. We see the interiority of Loryn. In the remake, while there are hints at the interiority, it isn’t nearly as developed. Part of this is the genre, the jukebox musical, which is often shallow, and shiny. The remake had a plasticity that the original did not.
Kendra: I think it’s pretty clear that we are on the same page that we both loved the original more. I appreciated the intentions of the remake but felt like it just didn’t deliver the way I was hoping it would. But the remake did pay homage to a few moments from the original that I loved, such as Julie’s first visit to downtown, showcasing the different cultures that coexisted and created such a rich environment for Randy and Julie to explore. Totally rad! Also, the feminist retelling had its own moments of value. I particularly enjoyed Rothe’s Julie starting to repurpose the punk look into her own fashion, with a black safety pin through her earring hole during the peak of her romantic friendship with Whitehouse’s Randy, allowing her to claim a part of his world for her own without losing her valley girl identity. But ultimately, the way the movie was written, cast and edited, really failed it. What we’ve lost in the remake are pertinent storylines about sexual assault, an authentic-ness to the punk culture that Randy grew up in, and no redemption for the “villain” of this story, Mickey. In addition to that, the editing of this movie was subpar at best and grotesquely forceful at times. Scenes were choppily cut when they weren’t the musical numbers. For example, the final scene in the ballroom has several moments where scenes are just pushed together with limited storytelling, forcing you to think about what you’ve just observed rather than appreciating the undersold moment of Rothe singing in the dark.
Kat: I agree. The film felt thrown together. While it’s obvious that this remake was meant to be more of an homage (I loved the cameo by the original Julie), it fell short. The remake is set in 1983, yet Janet Jackson didn’t blow up MTV until 1986 with the release of Control, and “Take on Me” by Aha didn’t come out until 1985. There was other stuff that annoyed me, like the whole plot thread with Modern English’s “I Melt with You,” but I will leave that one alone. Also, if Julie was seventeen in 1983, how come she’s only in her early forties in the opening scene that takes place in present day? But, the biggest critique I have (here come spoilers) with the 2020 version is that Randy acts as the impetus for Julie to pursue a career in fashion design (um, was this their nod to Pretty in Pink?), and Julie is his impetus for moving to NYC and pursuing a music career. His rebellious ways help Julie find her own agency, and Julie’s idealized dreams and goals help Randy to want something more than just playing with his band at a dive bar. In the original, there was no future. They were two teens from different sides of the valley, and they liked each other. Neither had to change, or figure out what would come next. The future was for grown-ups and Randy and Julie were just high schoolers who couldn’t see beyond the prom (or after prom at the Sheraton). There is something beautiful in that—the last moments of adolescence before being thrown into the adult world of fixed trajectories. The original Randy and Julie lived for the moment, and didn’t need to think about college or career, or how they could fit into each other’s futures, and while neither film truly captured the punk aesthetic, not being concerned about the future (see “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols) is very punk.
Kendra: I also wished the movie had stayed with a younger and more idealistic Randy and Julie, as the focus on the future only served as a way to move the story forward, and that immediate presence in the moment is what made their love story on screen so poignant. I was truly excited to see how this director would introduce the beloved Julie and Randy to a new generation of audiences. But beyond the glitz and glamour of this dolled up remake, the writing and casting choices ultimately make this movie one that I will not rush to see again, which is a shame. The original had such a lasting impact on me.
Kat Moore has essays in Brevity, Passages North, Diagram, The Rumpus, Entropy, Hippocampus, Whiskey Island, Salt Hill, New South, Split Lip, and others, as well as forthcoming in Image Journal, and Hotel Amerika. Her fiction can be found in Cheap Pop Lit, Hobart, and Craft. An essay of hers appears in the anthology Bodies of Truth: Personal Narratives on Illness, Disability, and Medicine. She is the Interviews Editor for American Literary Review.
Kendra L. Vanderlip was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is a current UNT Teaching Fellow and is the upcoming Essays Contest reader for American Literary Review. She received her MFA from the University of Memphis, and her BA from Grand Valley State University. She has work in Whiskey Island, Sidereal and forthcoming at Hobart. When she is not teaching, Kendra can be found at home with her husband, watching terrible reality television and cuddling with her four cats.