Valley Girl

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
Valley Girl Movie Poster Image
'80s tale about fitting in has sex, drinking, cursing.
  • R
  • 1983
  • 99 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

"Lots of people aren't happy unless you live and think the same way they do."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Julie is a witless high school girl who is bored with her long-term boyfriend and heartlessly drops him. She immediately becomes enamored with a handsome boy from another school and drops him, too, when she realizes that her friends won't accept him. Later, she changes her mind again. Her parents encourage her to reject peer pressure and be herself. Julie's parents like to "give her all the space she needs." Teens here are overly concerned with appearances, with the way people dress and speak. An outsider suggests that conformity is a trap and tells a girl, "You're all programmed."

Violence

A guy punches a newcomer because he's new and because he's interested in the guy's ex-girlfriend. Later the victim punches the guy back. A guy in a car tosses a lighted cigarette at a teen on the sidewalk. When the teen objects, the guy gets out of the car and threatens to beat the teen. A guy threatens to kick someone's "ass sideways."

Sex

A high school guy kisses and opens the shirt of one of his ex-girlfriend's best friends. Teens kiss and fondle each other passionately. Boys fondle and kiss girls' breasts; bare breasts shown. A girl's body is shown through a fogged glass shower door. Boys have their shirts off at the beach. Girls wear bikinis and dance at home in their underwear. A girl ogles a boy and comments, "He makes my mouth water." Kids make references to manual sex. A couple are seen under covers about to have sex. The Pussycat Theater, in Hollywood, is shown. A guy who was just dumped by his girlfriend has drunken sex with someone else in a bar's bathroom stall.

Language

"F--k," "s--t," "t-ts," "ass," "bitchin'," and '80s slang.

Consumerism

According to this movie, Valley Girls love to shop at the mall. The right clothes show the wearer's status.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Parents smoke marijuana. Kids pour alcohol into the punch at the school prom and into their drinks at a party. A teenager is so drunk that he vomits.
 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Valley Girl is director Martha Coolidge's 1983 tale of sex, peer pressure, and breaking the bonds of conformity among Los Angeles high schoolers of the 1980s. The hair, language, clothing, and music will probably seem dated to viewers currently in its target audience, but they'll find much to relate to as well. Cigarette smoking, alcohol drinking, sexual activity, and fitting in are still issues faced by every wave of teenagers. Expect to hear language including "f--k," "s--t," "t-ts," "ass," and "bitchin'" and other '80s slang. Heavy kissing and bared breasts are seen, and genital size is discussed. A high school guy kisses and opens the shirt of one of his ex-girlfriend's best friends. A guy who was just dumped by his girlfriend has drunken sex with someone else in a bar's bathroom stall. Parents smoke marijuana. Kids pour alcohol into the punch at the school prom and into their drinks at a party. A teenager is so drunk that he vomits.

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What's the story?

Julie (Deborah Foreman) is the VALLEY GIRL of the title, a teenager growing up in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley during the over-the-top 1980s. Her friend Suzi (Michelle Meyrink) is throwing a party at her parents' large house, where a group of girls in shag haircuts and boys in tight, high-waisted jeans eat sushi, drink spiked punch, dance, and make out. The kids all go to Valley High, except for Fred (Cameron Dye) and Randy (Nicolas Cage), who are politely crashing. Randy and Fred aren't dressed properly in the Valley Boy uniform of tight, collared polo shirts, and for that reason are immediately spotted as undesirable outsiders. Julie's ex, the hunky Tommy (Michael Bowen), doesn't hesitate to express his displeasure when Randy starts charming Julie. He punches Randy and throws him out of the house. Randy returns through a window and persuades Julie and her best friend Stacey (Heidi Holicker) to accompany him and Fred on a ride to a Hollywood club, showing the girls a world they'd never known. Keeping Julie out all night, Randy delivers her home early the next morning. Julie's parents are pot-smoking ex-hippies (Frederic Forest and Colleen Camp) who run a health food restaurant and who want their daughter to learn to make her own decisions. Such decisions are difficult when Julie learns that her friends won't accept the outsider Randy -- it's him or them, they make clear. Tommy and Randy fight over Julie, and she makes a choice in the end, but there's no indication it's a permanent one.

Is it any good?

This '80s coming-of-age tale is a movie of lost opportunities. Unlike the 1982 Fast Times at Ridgemont High, there are no truly admirable characters here. Julie's ex-hippie parents are the closest thing to role models because they want their daughter to make her own decisions uninfluenced by social pressures. Like its teen subjects, Valley Girl is superficial and scattered. Even when it seems as if we're going to see Julie show some spine, the next scene depicts a complete capitulation to peer pressure. That feels like a gap in the filmmaking process, as if some crucial explanatory sequence was left on the cutting room floor, or, worse yet, never shot at all. It often feels as if the writers and director missed chances to show the kind of character depth that helps engage an audience. Julie seems cruel when she breaks up with her boorish and egomaniacal boyfriend. The break seems to mean nothing to her. Later she takes up with him again as if she hadn't insensitively dropped him, and when she drops him again, we care so little about her that it makes no difference that she's finally chosen a better guy. By this time, we also have to wonder why the better guy even likes Julie.

Those who grew up in the '80s may enjoy a soundtrack that includes Psychedelic Furs' "Love My Way," as well as songs by Men at Work, the Plimsouls, the Payolas, and The Flirts. On the plus side, Foreman and Cage manage to realistically portray the excitement of young lovers who can barely tear themselves away from each other. But similarities aside, Romeo and Juliet this is not. Only Julie's friends refuse to accept Randy, not the other way around. The many visual and contextual references to the famed 1967 film The Graduate -- including an attraction between a teen and his girlfriend's mother and the final shot as the couple ride off into a hopeless future -- also fail or make no useful point. Enjoy Nicolas Cage at age 20. He's a riveting presence, laying the groundwork for the passionate, earnest, and endlessly watchable outsider he would later play in Moonstruck.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the difficulty of the teen years. Why do some teens feel it's important to fit in? What do you think would happen to them if they went their own way? How are the teens in Valley Girl similar to or different from teens today?

  • Julie's parents are teaching her to be responsible by letting her make her own decisions, about whom to date, about how late to stay out, etc. What do you think of that parenting style?

  • The kids in the movie talk a lot about sex and sometimes rate the hotness of the boys and girls they see. How do you think rating people based on their looks, bodies, and other superficialities helps or undermines the self-confidence of the raters? Do you think they apply the same standards to themselves and worry that they might not be attractive enough?

Movie details

For kids who love the '80s

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