Tale of two Valley Girls

Pub date March 20, 2007
SectionFilm Review

THE ORIGINAL It starts as a joke, but it rarely ends well. You pick up a piece of slang to make fun of it and then, at some point far too late down the line, realize you are physically incapable of putting it down. Who knew — I didn’t in seventh grade, when I first started using the word “like” as an irritating placeholder for nothing in particular — that Moon Unit Zappa and her dad’s joke, a song mimicking a youthful subculture’s garbled tongue, was also on me and my friends, 3,000 miles distant from Sherman Oaks, or that 24 years later I would still sound vaguely like a character from Martha Coolidge’s film Valley Girl?

My community of incoherents is a large one. The syntax has stuck around, and so has the film at least partly responsible for it — not to mention the threads sported on both sides of the film’s Hollyweird-Valley divide, which have now cycled back into fashion at least twice in the past decade. The streets of San Francisco are filled with stripy-shirted hipsters, Valley Girl is still being paid tribute at events such as Midnites for Maniacs at the Castro, and now the admirers who packed that house can even troop down to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for a screening that pairs OG VG with a low-budget homage directed by Michele O’Marah.

If you’ve seen the original, and I’m so sure you have, you know exactly why a crazed fan would undertake such an endeavor. Starring Deborah Foreman as Julie, the titular Valley girl, and Nicolas Cage as Randy, her tubular, dreamy-eyed swain from the wrong side of the Hollywood Hills, Valley Girl managed to gently send up a vapid ’80s mall culture while at the same time treating its viewers to a torrid new-romantic love story fueled by worlds colliding, the Plimsouls, and a song about getting it on mid–nuclear holocaust (Modern English’s “I Melt with You”).

Building on the can’t-fail tale of R+J, the film cruises the Hollywood club scene and sneaks into the tract homes of Tarzana and Van Nuys, coolly siding against a brand of teen robotics and materialism epitomized by middle-class girls running loose in the Galleria with their parents’ credit cards — yet admitting that they look “truly dazzling” in their string bikinis at the beach. Fittingly, or fitting-roomly, a shopping montage supplies the footage for the opening credits. But if shopping’s not your bag, try the “I Melt with You” montage, or the Randy-stalking-Julie montage, or lines like Randy’s “Well, fuck you! No, fuck off, for sure! Like, totally!” — an utterance whose consummate blend of anguish and hilarity never fails to secure viewer forgiveness for the admittedly shocking sight, early on, of Cage’s saltwater-slicked V-shaped chest hair. (Lynn Rapoport)

THE REMAKE When she was a teenager, Michele O’Marah’s favorite movie was Valley Girl — reason enough, as an adult, to mount a remake of what’s probably the most popular teen love story of the 1980s (non–John Hughes division). Or was affection the only reason? According to an August 2006 interview O’Marah did with the Web site Austinist, she created her homage as “a serious piece of artwork to be viewed in a gallery” addressing the film’s “serious issues — how a teenage girl thinks about herself, and how she thinks about men and how they should treat her.”

Whether or not this intention comes through is debatable. Fact is, the audience that goes to see a Valley Girl remake (even when it’s showing in a museum) is going to be largely composed of Valley Girl fans, who might let things like O’Marah’s charmingly homemade sets slide but will mutter among themselves when key details are altered. Why didn’t O’Marah direct the guy playing Tommy to make that crazy arm gesture after he knocks back a drink at Suzi’s party? Why are certain crucial lines jumbled beyond recognition?

The disconnects are all the more puzzling when you consider all that O’Marah gets exactly right. Her tweaks can be incredibly winning: Julie’s dad’s broken sandals — the “Water Buffalos” — are made of cardboard; a bewigged Plimsouls cover band offers excellent coverage during the Hollywood bar scenes.

O’Marah was clearly operating with a budget one-zillionth the size of the original’s, itself a cheap film by Hollywood standards. But if her lo-fi Valley Girl is to be taken as serious artwork, it raises a serious question: why remake something you love only to emphasize subtext over joy? In the 1980s a group of junior high kids devoted endless summers to a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark. They had the same flagrant disregard for copyright laws as O’Marah but no pretensions whatsoever. Their product may have been technically rough, but it was also energetic and enjoyable. Thing is, when you start putting quote marks around quote marks, fun becomes work. To the max. (Cheryl Eddy)


Thurs/22, 6:30 p.m. Valley Girl (Michele O’Marah) and 8:30 p.m. Valley Girl (Martha Coolidge)

Sun/25, 2 p.m. Valley Girl (O’Marah) and 4 p.m. Valley Girl (Coolidge)


San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Phyllis Wattis Theater

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000