“Valley Girl” Remake Is Bad Nostalgia Bait

Not all nostalgia is good nostalgia.

Theaters are closed, movies delayed, and access to press screenings are limited to streaming. There’s no better time to highlight smaller films — amazing movies without the big-studio marketing budget that makes it harder for you to find. Discover a new film festival darling or movie direct to Video on Demand. Sheltering in place doesn’t need to stop you from your weekend evening escape to the movies. Follow the flurry of upcoming reviews on Twitter, or find all my reviews for movies you can stream from right at home.

Hollywood is always prime for a remake. This year’s remakes include Dolittle, The Grudge, Godzilla vs Kong, Emma, and Dune. The inescapability of the modern remake comes as a double-edged sword: on one edge is its likelihood of profitability no matter the quality of the film, on the other edge is the film’s high likelihood to be abysmal. Where the box office success is a good bet given a title’s name recognition, it’s up to a modern reworking to have something new to say for it to be worthwhile to audiences (see 2019’s success of a 12-time retold story, Little Women). Which brings is to 1983 California, and its 2020 remake of the classic film, Valley Girl.

Originally starring Deborah Foreman and Nicholas Cage, Valley Girl is back with Jessica Rothe as Julie, the star vocal fry-talking, shopping queen type, and Josh Whitehouse as Randy, the punk vagrant from the other side of the tracks. It’s a feel-good film with a feel-good message for its time, a landscape ripe for revision through a more modern lens. To be successful in its remake would mean striking the chord of 80s feel-good nostalgia while at the same time critiquing it for its pitfalls. And while Valley Girl succeeds at pop karaoke nostalgia, it fails in its meager efforts to add anything meaningful or new, and falls to the same level of vapidity being recalled.

Valley Girl is told through a How I Met Your Mother-style storytelling as an adult Julie, played by Alicia Silverstone, sits her teen daughter on the couch to share how she too was once young and wild. While the daughter initially hates being held captive to her mom’s often retold nostalgia, by the second flash forward she’s enthralled thanks to the story’s addition of a love interest, Randy. The campy feel and frequent musical numbers serve as a shot of adrenaline to endear you to the film — expect musical numbers about every 8 minutes with an 80s soundtrack of pop songs like Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation, Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and Kim Wilde’s Kids in America — until you reach the point of diminishing returns. By the end of the first act, the effects are gone.

When Julie and Randy first meet on the beach, it’s love — or at least curiosity — at first sight. Their worlds collide more earnestly when Randy and his friends crash a party of the Valley elites to continue his flirting with Julie. And so the plot begins, the two star-crossed lovers whose admiration for each other only grows despite the chagrin of friends on both sides. Two worlds divided into the Valley in their bubble and the punks on the other side of the tracks, or in this case, the Hollywood hills.

But the relationship is one-sided, as Julie often spends more time conforming to Randy’s California culture than Randy does hers. For the first time Julie is exposed to clubs, breakdancers, Spanish-speaking street food vendors. When Randy does cross over to her side of life, he either sabotages himself or is thwarted by Julie’s ex boyfriend, punchable YouTube personality-turned-actor Logan Paul as punchable Valley jock, Mickey. The question, of course, is whether their love can overcome the differences of the worlds behind them.

In its brightest moments, Valley Girl cleverly smirks at conventional wisdom of the 80s versus the audience’s common sense of today. “People are waiting now, you know,” Julie says of marriage as she and her friends talk on the beach. “Some girls don’t even get married until they’re, like, 23 and stuff.”

To which her friend replies, “If I’m not married by 23, I’ll kill myself.” That friend is the token Black character, a staple of 80s and 90s pop entertainment. Although other nods land well and begin to acknowledge a self-awareness of modernity — Julie’s dad passively tells his wife they’re not going to invest in Macintosh, but instead in Commodore — most opportunities for such awareness are left on the floor. The result is like chewing Fruit Stripe gum, a feel-good pop nostalgia hit that tastes good for a moment before the sudden questioning of why you bothered. Watching 80s nostalgia that isn’t aware how the world changed is like watching an OJ Simpson documentary that doesn’t know a world after 1968.

Valley Girl bets its money on the musical hits that keep coming, and a tipped brim to feminism by way of highlighting a surprise girl from the valley, the first woman astronaut in space, Sally Ride. Still, Valley Girl falls short of being anything more than a movie that admires two elements of 80s white pop culture. Its problem may have been solved through an additional character, someone neutral for the audience to hold onto as an anchor to reality Valley Girl instead lives in an unaware bubble similar to the characters it portrays. If you want what good Valley Girl has to offer, karaoke should do the trick.

Valley Girl is available on Video on Demand May 8th.

Find all of Jordan Calhoun’s Rotten Tomatoes-approved movie reviews at Jordan Calhoun at the Movies.

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  • Jordan Calhoun is a writer in New York City. His forthcoming debut book "Piccolo Is Black" is a celebration of the common adaptations we made while non-diverse pop culture helped us form identities. He holds a B.A. in Sociology and Criminal Justice, B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Japanese, and an M.P.A. in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy. He might solve a mystery, or rewrite history. Find him on Instagram and Twitter @JordanMCalhoun

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