Valley Girl Review: A killer 80s soundtrack and kick-ass performances create a refreshing remake
Adding a musical flair and flashy 80s style to her adaptation of an 80s classic, director Rachel Lee Goldberg crafts a vibrant and upbeat love story with her remake of Marth Coolidge’s Valley Girl.
The film follows Julie Richman (Jessica Rothe), an upbeat Valley girl vibing to the pop music her and her friends listen to as the galivant throughout the mall, and Randy (Josh Whitehouse), a punk rocker who hangs with his bandmates and lives against the grain. Although they exist on opposite sides of the tracks, they have a fated encounter that rocks their worlds and brings them together. As the begin to have new experiences together and dream of leaving the valley, the two have a whirlwind romance that’s not accepted by their family and friends. So, in order to stay together, Julie and Randy must defy the odds and the expectations set on them.
On the surface, Valley Girl is the lovers from the opposite sides of tracks story that you’d expect and have seen in films like Grease and West Side Story. It’s a tad predictable in how things play out within Julie and Randy’s relationship – they fall in love, no one wants them to be together, and they’re forced to reconcile with their backgrounds and discover new feelings they have for each other and themselves. The way they struggle to integrate themselves into each other’s worlds, while still fun and enjoyable, is pretty typical with Randy’s bandmates seeing Julie as an oddity and Julie’s parents not wanting her to date him because he’s so into punk. Even the small storylines of the clear bottom rung friend of Julie’s main friend group, Stacey (Jessie Enis), flirting with a clumsy nerd and Julie’s friend Karen (Chloe Bennet) revenge dating Julie’s douchey ex Mickey (Logan Paul), are so familiar that leave an all too familiar impression.
However, it’s impressive how this film’s familiarity is nearly eclipsed by all the very relatable and interesting lead characters, the stellar 80s soundtrack and style, and the overall fun tone that stems from the great character performances. It really surprised me how invested I became into Julie and Randy’s romance and I think it’s easy to gravitate towards them because of how genuine they come off. Their joint dreams of escaping L.A., with Julie wanting to pursue a fashion education at F.I.T. in NYC and Randy wanting to go to NYC to give his band a fresh start in a new scene, are very relatable and the film does a nice job fleshing them out. It’s a love story that anyone can connect to and there’s a maturity to it that’s very refreshing – especially with an older Julie (Alicia Silverstone) telling her daughter (Camila Morrone) the entire story. There’re even some unexpected moments in the story that breakaway from the familiarity, including a strong nod to first female astronaut Sally Ride that’s legitimately empowering, and the way things wrap up from the perspective of an older Julie is kind of unique and touches on how strong a connection can be without his having to be romantic.
The performances are also very engaging and a ton of fun with Rothe and Whitehouse being absolutely magnetic with their charm. After making a huge breakout in her career with the Happy Death Day series, Rothe follows up with a standout performance that’s fun and shows a new side to her ability. She kills every song she’s apart of and balances Julie’s fun, Valley girl side and her desires for something new perfectly. Whitehouse is also very strong in bring out Randy’s punk rock attitude and rather than come off standoff-ish, he’s instantly charming. Every time these two are on-screen together you can feel the sparks fly and they have such a strong, contagious chemistry that anyone can enjoy.
Honestly, the casting in general is great and the entire cast fits their respective characters very well. Randy’s bandmates, Jack (Mae Whitman) and Sticky (Mario Revolori), are a blast with how they tease Randy and give off those angsty punk vibes anyone would expect to see. Bennet, Enis, and Ashleigh Murray make their own marks with each of their character’s personalities and attitude – not to mention, Murray and Bennet slay in every musical number they’re a part of. It’s always a pleasure to see Judy Greer and Rob Huebel, especially growing up watching Human Giant, and seeing them as Julie’s parents is really funny at times. It’s also great to see Silverstone as she’s a perfect fit – after all, she’s truly the most iconic Valley girl. Even Paul is such a choice that I absolutely loved because I can’t think of anyone better to play someone as big of tool as Mickey – which he nails. Not to mention, when it comes to bringing the film’s 80s soundtrack to life, they add a vibrant energy that’s impossible to resist.
At first, I was a little hesitant about the decision to utilize popular songs of the 80s over having original music. On one-hand, jukebox musicals often jive more with general audiences because they contain songs that everyone knows and knows the words to – so singing along is almost inevitable. However, on the other hand, there’s always a risk in the experience being dragged down by hearing iconic songs without the iconic voices. There’s even a risk with jukebox musicals that songs can feel forced into what’s happening with the film and the flow can be halted. Admittedly, there’re moments where the songs don’t exactly come off as strong or meaningful in the scenes that they’re attached to, especially Kids in America and Under Pressure, but these moments are few and far between because, like I said before, this cast kicks ass.
The 80s soundtrack really takes you back to that time and mixed with the incredible costume design from Maya Lieberman really takes you back. From roller-skating rink dance-off sequence set to Men Without Hats’ Safety Dance to an incredible medley of 80s classics being sung through an Aerobics class sequence, legwarmers and all, this film lives and breathes the 80s in a way that’s nostalgic and genuinely great. There’s a duet between Julie and Randy singing Take on Me that’s really rad and Murray absolutely nails Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. Even the punk elements of the film get their time to shine as the opening number of Bad Reputation adds a lot of great energy right from the start and a duet between Randy and Jack singing The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry is really powerful and touching in the moment. Even the use of Modern English’s I’ll Melt with You is great as a song that symbolizes Julie and Randy’s relationship.
Goldberg’s Valley Girl is that kind of feel good film filled with stellar performances from Rothe and Whitehouse, an absolutely killer soundtrack and style, and a genuinely touching and relatable story about going your own way that we all kind of need right now. It’s upbeat love story and incredible cast create a remake that’s able to stand on its own – a true rarity nowadays. It’s easily got the potential to become a musical that others adapt to the stage and is worth for anyone wanting to go on a fun, nostalgic, and vibrant trip back to the 80s.