A film review by Craig J. Koban June 4, 2020

VALLEY GIRL jjj

2020, PG-13, 104 mins.

Jessica Rothe as Julie Richman  /  Josh Whitehouse as Randy  /  Ashleigh Murray as Loryn  /  Chloe Bennet as Karen  /  Peyton List as Courtney  /  Mae Whitman  /  Jessie Ennis as Stacey  /  Logan Paul as Mickey  /  Allyn Rachel as Raechel Donahue

Directed by Rachel Goldenberg  /  Written by Amy Talkington

I think that I've made it abundantly clear over the years that I typical loathe most remakes of any kind.  It's as creatively lazy as it gets for the medium.  

That's not to say that I haven't appreciated some remakes.  In my mind, a good re-imagining of a past movie has to pay some level of respectful homage to what has come before while carving out its own unique tone and vibe that makes the material somehow feel fresh and new.  Otherwise, what's really the point? 

This brings us to VALLEY GIRL, which is, yes, a remake of the 1983 cult favorite of the same name, directed by Martha Coolidge and staring Deborah Foreman and a then very young and quite unknown Nicholas Cage.  Partially inspired by Shakespeare's ROMEO & JULIET as well as the Frank and Moon Unit Zappa Song "Valley Girl", Coolidge's original dealt with a popular preppie from San Fernando Valley that hooks up with a punk hoodlum, and the ensuring opposites-attracts sparks that ignited as a result.  VALLEY GIRL redux essentially copies and pastes that storyline wholesale, but makes some welcome changes in terms of direction and execution to allow for it to stand on its own two feet.  I never really felt like I had any interest in a remake of VALLEY GIRL, but this re-tooled iteration is pretty damn infectiously delightful, stemming from the fact that it preserves its antecedent's 1980's era through being a neon hued pop and rock jukebox musical.  Plus, it's directed with unending enthusiasm by Rachel Goldenberg and features HAPPY DEATH DAY's fantastic Jessica Rothe in yet another effervescent performance.   

It's a tad jarring, though, to see VALLEY GIRL not open in Reagan-era California, but instead the modern day.  Ruby (Camilla Morrone) has just gone through a particularly awful night of being stood up by her crush, which leads to her calling her mother to pick her up.  And, as added deeply meta icing on this remake cake, the mother Julia is played by Alicia Silverstone herself, uncredited in the film.  You may, of course, recall that Silverstone appeared as a Valley Girl queen herself in 1995's CLUELESS, and seeing her play a mother to a contemporary teen will inspire many nostalgic smiles in viewers.  Anyhoo', when Julia brings her teary eyed daughter home she tries to ease her intense heartache with a story of her own adolescence, and before you can say "TOTALLY!" Julia serves the role of storyteller to Ruby with a tale of her own romance woes way back in the early 80s. 

 

 

It's at this precise point in VALLEY GIRL that it segues from present to past at an unspecified period of the early 80's, during which time we hook up with Julia as a young popular girl at Oaks High School (she's played in teenage form by Rothe).  Julia seems like she proverbially has it all: She's endlessly attractive and is worshipped at her school, not to mention that she's dating the equally popular Alpha male jock of the school in Mickey (played by YouTube's Logan Paul...more on him in a bit).  During one day at the beach with her BFFs in Stacey (Jessie Ennis), Karen (Chloe Bennet) and Loryn (Ashleigh Murray), Julia has a chance encounter with Randy (Josh Whitehouse), who's a tough taking punk from Hollywood that seems like polar opposite ends of the culture divide.  Predictably, both begin to fall in love, which greatly irks their respective friends, with all of them despising what the other group represents.  Still, Julia decides to dump Mickey and against her friend's best wishes, she opts to hook up with the across the tracks bad boy in Randy, a choice that not only doesn't sit well with them, but also with Julia's parents (Judy Grier and Rob Huebel), seeing as they fear punk rock as a damning influence on their good and pure daughter. 

As far as cinematic makeovers go, VALLEY GIRL has an awful lot going for it.  Firstly, Goldenberg understands and honors the appeal of Coolidge's original narrative (even though we've seen permutations of this tale told over and over again in countless teen centric romcoms).  This new version maintains the essence of the premise of two mismatched, but destined to be together lovers from different sides of L.A. and instead of just lazily regurgitating the 1983 film, Goldenberg envisions her retelling as a fun and fancy free musical, absolutely jam packed with classics of the decade (and, uh huh, some of the song choices are anachronistic, but who cares?).  This new VALLEY GIRL also doesn't try to re-appropriate the tone of the older version.  It's more of a bubbly, colorful, and inviting party film as reminisced by an older woman in Silverstone's Julia looking back with misty eyed fondness.  The framing device might initially come off as tired and contrived, but as a person relatively the same age as Silverstone that grew up in the 80s, I found the star's inclusion here as a nice touch that affectionately winks in acknowledgement at the audience. 

Now, not every song and dance number here is an unqualified toe tapping winner, but a majority of them are done with an abundance of limitless and infectious sass.  I especially liked the opening sequence introducing us to Julie and her besties, set in a mall of yesteryear to The Go-Go's "We Got the Beat."  We're then given an on-the-nose, but still boisterous rendition of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" while on the beach, not to mention a catchy version of "Bad Reputation" as we meet Randy and his fellow headbangers.  One of my favorite moments involves an aerobics workout punctuated by everything from Hall & Oates to Madonna, as well as a terrifically rendered sequence set at a roller rink that had the 45-year-old critic in me thinking back to his own days at similar hangouts.  Hell, the makers even managed to call out one of the original tunes from the '83 film in "I Melt With You" for good appeasing measure.  And Goldenberg infuses these scenes with a blast of pastel colors, a lovingly garish stylistic sensibility that echoes the past in question, and no-nonsense energy that makes the picture expeditiously flow from one scene to the next. 

Leading this hero worship of rock, pop, and big haired 80s extremes is the lovely presence of Rothe, who was the best thing going in the two HAPPY DEATH DAY films and is easily one of the key selling points of this remake.  Harbinger of one the warmest smiles of the silver screen that would make Rachel McAdams blush with envy, Rothe is such a cauldron of spunk and bright eyed appeal throughout that she makes even the more pedestrian scenes of the film go down that much easier.  She's also well matched with Whitehouse, who gives his role the required brooding hunkiness while also relaying a soft and vulnerable layer to Randy's ultra tough guy facade.  Perhaps the largest casting elephant in the room is Logan Paul, whose deplorable antics in one of his incredibly controversial and tasteless YouTube videos (just Google search his name and "suicide forest" and you'll immediately understand the bad publicity) single handedly led to VALLEY GIRL being shelved from its original release in 2018 until a very unceremonious VOD push now during our current Covid-19 pandemic.  I will say this: Paul is quite good in the film playing...a self serving asshole. 

Not all of VALLEY GIRL is a squeaky clean and smooth good ride.  Many of the cast are distractingly too old to play teens, Rothe in particular (she's in her thirties), and I'm not sure whether this was a conscious effort on the makers' part here to slyly reference the laughably age inappropriate casting in other musicals like GREASE or just...well...turning a blind eye to the advancing years of their own cast and throwing caution to the wind.  Beyond that, VALLEY GIRL 2.0 makes some attempts to inject some themes about female empowerment throughout its story that aren't as profoundly expanded upon as they should have beenLastly, Goldenberg's VALLEY GIRL seems a bit more aggressively made and marketed with a young adult audience in mind, which may have die hards of Coolidge's film turned off.  Yet, by the end of my VOD screening I never felt that this was an intellectually lethargic piece of desecration of the original.  As mentioned, I'm not sure that myself or the world around me truly needed a VALLEY GIRL remake, but I'm kind of glad it I saw this one.  It's as cheerfully and agreeably innocuous as many of the songs that it references throughout, and as a piece of blatant nostalgia bait, the film is pretty rad.

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