When I think about low-budget independent films from the 80s, I usually hark back to all of those awful horror movies that I stayed up to watch on HBO. But, there were do-it-yourself movies being made in other genres back then, such as comedies aimed at teenagers, most of which appeared in the wake of the success of Porky's. But, Valley Girl was able to distinguish itself from the other independent productions of the day.
It's very easy to trace the angle that Valley Girl was taking. The title was taken from the song by Frank and Moon Unit Zappa, and the film was obvious influenced by Fast Times at Ridgemont High. However, writers Wayne Crawford and Andrew Lane, along with director Martha Coolidge, attempted to take the film in a more serious direction. As the title implies, the film takes place in the Valley area of Los Angeles. Julie (Deborah Foreman) is a "valley girl" who has grown tired of her trendy lifestyle, and has made a bold statement to this fact by breaking up with her hunky boyfriend Tommy (Michael Bowen), much to the shock and dismay of her friends. Julie's world is further rocked when she meets Randy (Nicolas Cage), a punk from Hollywood. Their attraction to one-another is instantaneous, and they begin to date. But, Julie's friends begin to ostracize her, and question her decisions. Can these two lovers from different backgrounds ever truly be happy?
Obviously, Valley Girl is simply an updated version of Romeo and Juliet, as it features two young lovers from different worlds. But, the novelty here are those worlds themselves. At the time of its release, Valley Girl was one of the first films (along with Fast Times at Ridgemont High) to explore the new trends which were emerging from California. As it explores the worlds of the Valley, with its malls and parties, and Hollywood, with its seedy nightclubs, Valley Girl takes the viewer on a tour of worlds which they may not have seen before on film.
Another interesting aspect of the film (once again, borrowed from Fast Times), is the serious and mature tone of the film. Sure, Valley Girl has some funny moments, but the turbulent relationship between Julie and Randy is portrayed in a way that could almost be called dark. This isn't your typical perky teenage film where everything is played for laughs and everyone has perfect lives. The tension between Randy and Julie, and more importantly, between Julie and her friends, seems real, and thus makes the film more emotional. (Also, there are some moments with Julie's parents and Tommy's spitefulness that ring true as well). Having said that, the film also feels hollow at times. Despite her limited budget and time, director Martha Coolidge has included at least two musical montages in the film that come across as very cliched and don't do much to move the story along. And, other than the novelty of the locales and the tumultuous nature of the relationships, Valley Girl never really moves beyond its Romeo and Juliet story.
Coolidge does get a lot of help from her cast. This was Nicolas Cage's first leading role and he's excellent as Randy. Whereas Cage's hang-dog look has drawn criticism in some roles, it works to his advantage here as the lovesick Randy. Also, Cage's ability to act crazy serves him well, as Randy is prone to exuberant outbursts. Deborah Foreman is great as Julie, and it's a shame that this beauty no longer works in film. Despite her looks, she is able to bring a much-needed air of innocence and insecurity to Julie, which makes this untouchable Valley Girl much more likable.
This DVD contains both a widescreen and full-frame transfer of Valley Girl. For the widescreen version, the film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The picture is quite sharp, but there is a noticeable amount of grain in most of the shots, especially the daytime scenes. (The beach scene looks as if the air is full of gnats.) Other than that, and some minor artifacting at times, the transfer is relatively free from problems. There are no overt defects from the source print, and the noise reduction is kept to a minimum. The film is built around certain color schemes, and those shades look great here, especially the dominant pastels.
The primary audio track on this disc is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. This track provides clear dialogue, and shows no hissing or distortion. The music in the film sounds very good, and typically makes great use of the surround sound speakers. But, other than that, the sounds stays in the stereo arena, with only the occasional sound effect coming from the rear speakers. Also, the music and dialogue are a bit tinny, lacking any real presence, and there is basically no bass response to be had.
Although I wouldn't necessarily consider Valley Girl a classic, MGM is treating it as such with this Special Edition DVD release which is full of extra features. We start with an audio commentary from director Martha Coolidge. She speaks at length during this scene-specific commentary and relates many interesting stories about the film's production. The amount of detail that she is able to recall is actually pretty amazing. She gives a great deal of detail about shooting locations and the time-constraints on the project. There is also a video commentary, in which at various times during the film, an image will appear on-screen where a member of the cast or crew will comment on the film. The problem with this is that it's far to hit-or-miss, in reference to both the comments and the frequency of these video pop-ups. In addition, the disc also holds a "Pop-up Video" style 80s Trivia Track. With this, we get an occasional on-screen balloon which contains information about the movie, but it mostly features trivial tidbits based on 80's culture.
The DVD contains three featurettes. The first is entitled "Valley Girl: 20 Totally Tubular Years Later". This 23-minute segment offers contemporary interviews with the cast and crew as they reminisce about the making of Valley Girl. However, Deborah Foreman is noticeably absent from this group. The other thing that one can't help but notice is Nicolas Cage's insane neon-green snakeskin jacket. What's up with that? Also of note is the fact that Michael Bowen, who appeared in Jackie Brown refers to Quentin Tarantino as "the biggest director on the planet." OK. We next have a 20-minute feature called, "In Conversation: Nicolas Cage and Martha Coolidge". Shot at the same time as the main featurette, this is simply a chat between Cage and Coolidge as they talk about their experiences on Valley Girl. Despite Cage's bizarre wardrobe, he's very relaxed and jovial here, making this an interesting talk. Finally, we have "The Music of Valley Girl", a 16-minute segment which looks at the eclectic soundtrack from the movie. With interviews with Coolidge, Peter Case of The Plimsouls, Josie Cotton, and Robbie Grey of Modern English, this featurette explores the make-up of the Valley Girl soundtrack and how the music influenced the film.
Speaking of music, the DVD contains two music videos; "I Melt With You" by Modern English and "A Million Miles Away" by The Plimsouls. These are the original videos from the early 80s, not something new with footage from the film. Finally, we have storyboard-to-film comparisons for three scenes from the movie. Strangely, there is no trailer for Valley Girl on the DVD.
Valley Girl is an exciting trip back to the 80s which should stir the memories of those who lived through those colorful times. The movie has held up well over the years, as it waffles between being lightweight and very serious. For nothing else, Valley Girl is worth checking out to see a very young Nicolas Cage beginning to work on his craft.