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Valley Girl: Special Edition

The teen-film explosion of the early 1980s resulted in a handful of bona fide classics: Fast Times at Ridgemont High set the standard, both in terms of quality and format, and all the followed it attempted with varying success to mimic its mix of sexual angst, juvenile hi-jinks, comings-of-age, quirky adults, and, preferably, scenes of high school girls cavorting in their underwear (or less), all set to a soundtrack of as many trendy pop songs as will fit in the typically small budget. Sixteen Candles and Say Anything both earned devoted followings amongst the pimple-afflicted, but one of the biggest, and most unlikely, successes of the genre was 1983's super-cheap cult hit Valley Girl. Deborah Foreman stars as Julie, a mall-bound preppy from the sterile, suburban, middle-class confines of the San Fernando Valley, who has a tougher time picking the right blouse for a big party than she does dumping her oafish, stuck-up, pastel-clad boyfriend Tommy (Michael Bowen). A little more responsible and self-aware than the rest of her flighty friends, Julie is just beginning to sense an emptiness in the Valley lifestyle when she strikes up an unlikely attraction with Hollywood Blvd. punk Randy (Nicolas Cage). At first their romance introduces some mild culture clashes for the lovestruck pair, but shortly after the good-times montage rolls to an end, Julie feels forced by her jealous and provincial friends to reconsider her alternative relationship. On paper, Valley Girl doesn't have much to offer, and, in truth, neither does it distinguish itself much in execution, especially during the so-called "humor" scenes, which usually settle for the most unambitious gags and punchlines. What does work for Coolidge, however, is a surprising lack of interest in comedy for most of the film. Coolidge's approach, a few subplots notwithstanding, is primarily that of docudrama, sometimes utilizing a handheld camera rather than staging convoluted setpieces, and relying on the charisma of her actors to invigorate the script's prosaic dialogue. With Cage and Foreman on board, that's a winning decision; each imbues their role with personality and gravitas, and their chemistry together is palpable. With a plain screenplay, a loose and immediate aesthetic, and a distinct lack of shtick, Valley Girl assumes a greater sense of verisimilitude (excepting a rather tame depiction of the L.A. punk scene) than is found in most teen movies, allowing the audience to feel a more direct and intimate connection with its characters and their conflicts, masking its weaknesses and redeeming a few poorly conceived scenarios. Valley Girl can also claim ownership of one of the most enduring love songs of the New Wave era, pushing Modern English's "I Melt With You" from obscurity to an enduring emotional passport to the 1980s. MGM has produced a pretty good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) for this 20th Anniversary Special Edition disc (they've also included a full-frame version on the flip-side), with both a Dolby Digital 5.1 and an original monaural audio track. Coolidge comments on the film in another audio track. Also available are an "'80s Trivia Track," which offers pop-up factoids about the film and 1983 in general via subtitles, as well as a "Video Commentary Track," which sporadically plays interviews with cast and crew during key scenes of the film. Some of these "Video Commentaries" can also be seen in an accompanying conversation between Coolidge and Cage discussing the movie in retrospect and a featurette including more interviews with various participants (except for Foreman, who, despite her promise as a performer, dropped out of sight less than a decade after this breakthrough appearance). Coolidge and several bands heard on the soundtrack also participate in a third featurette focusing on the film's music. Also here: music videos for "I Melt With You" and The Plimsouls' "A Million Miles Away," a storyboard-to-film comparison, a trailer, and a few very obvious Easter eggs. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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