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Valley Girl | Review

A Boho in Noho: Goldenberg Slathers a Classic in Nostalgic Reminisces

Rachel-Lee- Goldenberg-Valley-Girl-ReviewFeeling nostalgic is akin to wearing rose-color glasses, distorting our tender reminiscing of bygone eras and customs to which we can never return. It’s more than a feeling when you hear that old song play…but our better instincts can be occluded when we’re unable to reconcile the past with the present. Such is the problem facing an unnecessary musical remake of Martha Coolidge’s 1983 classic Valley Girl, a property which is now also the directorial debut of Rachel Lee Goldenberg.

Whereas the original reconstituted Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet for the Southern California climate, the remake is framed by the present as a candy coated fairy tale of the past, when the cultural distinctions between the valley in Los Angeles, a suburban bubble with distinct dialects and neutered customs, was far removed from the jagged edges defining the rest of the city proper. And so, it’s a film in love with its own memory of itself, a “Glee” inspired reconstitution of a time capsule which creates a pale reflection of the original’s simplistic magic, which delineated the somewhat complex, microcosmic differences between metropolitan denizens separated by gridlocked traffic behind a ‘hill’ and now plays like a lackluster treatise on class.

Adult Julie (Alicia Silverstone) narrates the defining chapter of her first love to her own teen daughter (Camila Morrone), taking us back to 1983, when she (Jessica Rothe) was a consumption obsessed valley girl whose mostly concerned with her upcoming prom and trying to navigate her doubts about her jock boyfriend Mickey (Logan Paul). A chance meeting with Randy (Josh Whitehouse) spells love at first sight, but since he’s a hip singer who performs on the Sunset Strip, her restrictive social conditions won’t allow for their relationship to flourish. Plus, her parents (Judy Greer, Ron Huebel, reunited from Payne’s The Descendants, 2011) aren’t too keen on the idea of Randy. Eventually, Julie comes to her romantic senses and takes the plunge.

Martha Coolidge’s 1983 original was the first time Nicolas Cage graced our presence with his new screen surname, and there was a goofy, likeable chemistry with co-star Deborah Foreman. The traveling back to the same year from the present sorta recalls another early Cage flick, the Francis Ford Coppola directed Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), as well.

Silverstone is an interesting casting choice, considering her inextricable ties to the 1990s in another teen comedy classic and how Clueless was a reconstitution of Jane Austen’s Emma—again, a film which spoke to its current time instead of rooting around in the fumes of the past. The musical numbers unfortunately play like wannabe teenybopper replications, and always call attention to their trenchant inauthenticity and tinny sycophantism.

Kudos to Goldenberg’s attempts at inclusion, including a bold, lesbian character (Mae Whitman). However, the inclusion of a token black girl (Ashleigh Murray), who is obsessed with Janet Jackson’s catalogue before Ms. Jackson had one (remember, this is set in 1983) and not given any real characterization, feels lazy. In fact, it hints at how a more interesting examination of Valley Girl might have been from her perspective, a young black girl surrounded by white peers in North Hollywood’s suburban environs. What’s her story like? We already know Julie’s.

★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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