Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Film Appreciation - I'll Stop the World and Melt with You

Cody Hamman is dazzled by Valley Girl (1983) in this week's Film Appreciation.

The story of Valley Girl is sort of an early '80s Californian twist on Romeo & Juliet, centered on the relationship that develops between Randy and Julie, two teens from different worlds. Randy's a club-frequenting punk from the gritty city of Hollywood. Julie's from the San Fernando Valley, a suburban area of shopping malls and upper-middle class families, her friends are stylish and preppie.

Randy and Julie first see each other on the neutral ground of the beach. They exchange glances, but not words. Randy's buddy Fred overhears Julie's friend Loryn talking about a big party that's happening that night: "the social event of the season" will be held at 23727 Sierra Vista. Fred wants to crash it, despite Randy's insistence that he doesn't want to go to the Valley, he's not in the mood.

Randy and Fred show up at the party, Fred intending for them to "mingle, blend in", but they are totally out of place. Randy's uncomfortable, but then he sees Julie again. This time he approaches her.

There's clearly major mutual attraction, but their chat is soon interrupted by Tommy, a total douchebag who Julie recently dumped. A fight ensues and Randy and Fred are thrown out of the party. They leave, but Randy can't just let it end there. "That chick Julie, she's truly dazzling." He returns to the party, sneaks in and tries to talk Julie into leaving with him.

"Where are we gonna go?"
"I don't care."
"What are we gonna do?"

She agrees to go, but only if she can bring her best friend Stacey along. Stacey is not happy to be going anywhere with these hoods, these juvenile delinquents, but the night goes well as Randy and Fred take the girls on a tour through their Hollywood world, Randy and Julie falling for each other while Stacey rejects Fred's playful advances.

Randy and Julie's relationship is off and running, they even get a love montage, but things are not easy on Julie's side. Her friends don't understand why she likes Randy and take any opportunity to put him down. Stacey was clearly not won over by her time with the Hollywood guys, because she especially pressures Julie to break up with Randy. Tommy desperately wants to get back together with her, being with Tommy makes sense... Will Julie go with what she wants, or give in to her superficial friends?

The executive producers didn't expect much from Valley Girl, they just liked the title since Frank Zappa and daughter Moon Unit had just made the Billboard charts with their song "Valley Girl". They wanted to put the title on an R-rated teen exploitation flick, their only request was that the film have nudity. A specific amount, four moments of bare flesh. Valley Girl title, R rating, four pairs of breasts, that's all they needed. Director Martha Coolidge took those mandates, the script by Wayne Crawford and Andrew Lane, and the low budget of $325,000, then turned it into something totally unexpected. When the producers screened the finished film, they were pleasantly surprised: "This is a real movie!"

A real, good movie that, despite the executive producers' low aim and expectations, has managed to endure for almost thirty years now.

Coolidge brought the material to such an impressive level by having a real feel for the characters and situations. She overcame the budgetary restrictions by assembling a great crew, including cinematographer Frederick Elmes, and having keen attention to detail, including for the stylistic differences between the characters and even down to having different color palettes and lighting for the Valley and Hollywood settings. The film never looks like they were limited in any way, even though they were so limited that scenes were mostly shot in just one take, three maximum.

The lack of takes wouldn't have worked out if Coolidge hadn't also assembled a great cast. Deborah Foreman is very attractive, sweet and likeable as the conflicted Julie. I really like Foreman as an actress, she's been one of my favorites ever since my first viewing of April Fool's Day in the late '90s. Randy was an early role for Nicolas Cage, the first role for which he used the Cage stage name. He was the youngest member of the cast, just 18 during production. Even then, he was already making his own quirky choices, as evidenced by his much-talked-about chest hair in the beach scene. Coolidge had asked him to shave his body hair a bit, so he cut his chest hair into the Superman symbol, minus the S. Cage also ad libbed some of his most memorable lines and moments.

Julie's group of friends are played by Heidi Holicker as Stacey, Elizabeth "E.G." Daily as Loryn, and Michelle Meyrink as Suzi, and each of them gets their own bit of business to handle in the film. Stacey has her mission to break up Randy and Julie, Loryn has bad dealings with Tommy, and Suzi gets her own subplot wherein she and her beautiful young stepmother, played by Lee Purcell, are both attracted to the same guy.

Cameron Dye makes for a good sidekick as Fred, Michael Bowen does an effective job at making Tommy completely unlikeable, and Frederic Forrest and Colleen Camp are fantastic in supporting roles as Julie's  health food restaurant-owning hippie parents. It's kind of a Family Ties scenario, where '60s flower children who marched against the establishment are now parents of a consumer culture child.

Another great thing about the film is the music. Coolidge had been doing research for a rock 'n roll love story in the years before she was offered Valley Girl, and she brought her familiarity with the early '80s California music scenes to Valley Girl, filling the soundtrack with awesome songs by Modern English, The Plimsouls, Psychedelic Furs, Eddy Grant, Josie Cotton, and more. Due to rights issues, some songs originally included in the film, like Men at Work's "Who Can It Be Now?", haven't survived to modern video versions.

I don't remember watching Valley Girl in the '80s or '90s, I came to this one late. I did hear about it, and saw the VHS in video stores, but never rented it. I do remember thinking Nicolas Cage looked pretty goofy on the cover, judging the character just by his looks like Julie's friends do. And who is the valley girl he's paired with on the cover and the poster? It's not Deborah Foreman. The girl is actually Tina Theberge, who has a small role late in the film as Randy's ex-girlfriend. Her character is a Hollywood chick and she has different hair in the film than on the marketing materials, so she's not actually any character from the film on there. A strange choice.

Valley Girl was released on DVD in 2003, and I got around to seeing it in 2004, rented from Netflix. I really enjoyed it. With the good story, cool style, and the talent involved, it's an easy film to like. Scattered viewings have followed throughout the years. One viewing will always stick with me, in a bittersweet way - this was one of the last movies that I watched with my paternal grandmother. I caught a broadcast of it on network television while I was staying at her house in July of 2009, the last time I stayed there before she died, and she watched it with me. So I have that reason for a sentimental attachment to the film, which led to me finally buying the DVD this year.

Kevin Smith has been on a big Valley Girl kick in recent months. If you want to hear some entertaining and informative Valley Girl related podcasts, check out SModcast #152, where Kevin and Scott Mosier chat about the movie, SMoviola #1, where Kevin conducts a post-screening Q&A with Martha Coolidge, Deborah Foreman, and Frederick Elmes (video here), Plus One Per Diem June 22, in which Kevin and Jennifer Schwalbach talk with Deborah Foreman, and Plus One Per Diem June 29, in which Kevin and Jen talk with Heidi Holicker.


  1. Great write-up! Valley Girl is an 80s classic.

  2. Thank you for this awesome page!! Your pal, Heidi Holicker "Stacey"

  3. Thank you for loving our movie!! Heidi Holicker (Stacey)

    1. Thank you for checking out the article! It's an honor to receive a comment from you.

      - Cody

    2. Hi Stacey (Heidi)!
      This movie had warmth. It was a perfect blend of art and commerce. It set the mood for GenX. I remember being headed to a party in the mid 1980's and my date asked if this was going to be one of those parties where everyone was in black and they don't say excuse me. Then she giggled and said "I hate this music" assuming I would get the reference. Like this movie, I still think of her on occasion and smile.