In 1983, residents of the San Fernando Valley and beyond were treated to one of the first teen movies to effectively establish the pastel-neon energy of 1980s pop culture, rewriting “Romeo & Juliet” into a peppy high school romance splitting the difference between Grease and West Side Story, wherein two mismatched California stereotypes manage to fall for each other despite their clashing of style, social groups, and music tastes.
Now in 2020, a remake comes to us from director Rachel Lee Goldenberg and writer Amy Talkington, who’ve decided to update the indelible Valley Girl as a jukebox musical, so in other words Hairspray if they had skipped the broadway adaptation. As a concept, there’s fertile ground here to be explored, as the movie opens with Alicia Silverstone playing an older Julie Richman, now living in the present day and recanting the story of her first love with her recently heartbroken daughter (Camila Morrone) a la The Princess Bride.
Rather than tell (or retell) the tale as a straightforward, no-nonsense adherent to the time period, Julie decides to describe her life in effervescent detail as a sprawling musical time machine with Jessica Rothe now playing Julie as a teenager and Josh Whitehouse as the punk rock heartthrob Randy, previously portrayed by Nicolas Cage. Famous songs from throughout the 1980s are woven in and can perhaps be excused away in regards to their historical inaccuracy due to the film establishing Julie as an unreliable narrator early on, though how Julie is able to clearly articulate any kind of story with musical numbers is just as frustrating to think about.
Despite this promising setup for a re-examination of 80s movie tropes through the lens of someone who lived it and has had time to reflect, Valley Girl is content to pull back the throttle on any revelatory storytelling. It really is just the original Valley Girl remixed into mostly incoherent musical content with its own veneer, where more than half the song numbers fail the basic theater rule for either advancing the plot or revealing invaluable character information. With the exception of some efficiently handled dance numbers like Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Under Pressure, these musical fantasies feel like pale excuses for the film to stimulate the formulaic writing with an exciting song that only tangentially relates to the story and gets us mostly nowhere.
Add in some bafflingly trite loose-thread-tying in the third act, awkwardly forced cameos from the original, and the historically tragic casting of Logan Paul (which derailed this film from coming out two years ago as planned), and you have a significantly weaker remake that’s probably more trouble than it’s worth watching. Which is unfortunate, because this comes at the expense of some genuinely sublime performances, notably from Jessica Rothe who continues her star streak since the first Happy Death Day, injecting real charm and life into a character who at this point has been parodied enough times to be insufferable if not handled by someone with Rothe’s presence, though extra credit goes to Mae Whitman, Judy Greer, and a few others who do their best to spin something worthwhile out of admittedly shallow material.
There’s nothing particularly offensive about a Valley Girl remake playing it safe. The source material itself already recycled this same story with just the smallest touches of a makeover. Which is why it’s strange to see only splashes of superficial updates to this new remake as a musical, and though the journey itself has some fun moments, the ending sells itself short by fast-forwarding characters to an unearned resolution, and our characters in the present take little away from this yarn except for what’s fairly obvious to the viewer in the first three minutes.
If Valley Girl was a roller coaster, it would be the kiddy ride you choose because the line is short and you just want to pass the time before the next big thrill ride. And even then, it’s still pretty disappointing.