Going Totally ’80s to Save the Plaza: VALLEY GIRL Like Embodies Classic Romantic and Cinematic Themes, Fer Sure!

Plaza Theatre Benefit Presents VALLEY GIRL (1983); Dir: Martha Coolidge; Starring Nicholas Cage, Deborah Foreman, Elizabeth Daily; Fri. April 27 at 8:30 PM; Special guests, including Blast-Off Burlesque,VALLEY GIRL costume contest, contest for the best VALLEY GIRL impression; silent auction from local Atlanta businesses, including Libertine, Adult Swim, The Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, Slopes BBQ and more; tickets $16 with a $1 discount per ticket for cash payments; All proceeds from ticket sales and the silent auction go directly to keeping The Plaza Theatre alive. Trailer here.

By Emily Jane McFarland
Contributing Writer

When I first learned that The Plaza Theatre had plans to screen the 1983 classic teen romantic comedy, VALLEY GIRL, on Friday, April 27 at 8:30 pm, I could not stop talking about how hot Nicholas Cage is as a young ’80s Hollywood punk rocker. The Plaza is not just Atlanta’s only independent, nonprofit cinema, it is also a historical landmark and an important part of our community.   Owners Jonny and Gayle Rej have always had to fight to keep the Plaza’s doors open, a difficult one that many would probably have given up long ago. But the Rejs are two very special people. Unfortunately, as of late, The Plaza’s situation has turned more dire than usual and the decision to host a fundraiser centered around a screening of VALLEY GIRL was made in an effort to raise both money and awareness that The Plaza needs help.  If it does not receive that help, this art deco gem will sadly become another ghost of Atlanta’s past.

In 1983, I was busy being born, so I never had a chance to see VALLEY GIRL in the theater when it first opened. Once in middle school, I was finally able to watch it, forming a slew of girlhood memories that made VALLEY GIRL very special to me. I sadly came to the realization that the likelihood of seeing VALLEY GIRL on the big screen, let alone on a 35 mm print, was slim to none, even when I lived in New York for seven years. My dreams of staring into the dopey eyes of a 30-foot Randy as he falls in love with Julie were crushed.

Nicholas Cage and Deborah Foreman in VALLEY GIRL (1983). MGM Home Entertainment.

When I was in the seventh grade, I had not yet seen VALLEY GIRL and those young memories were just starting to develop. Every Saturday, while my best friend’s parents would stay out all night for their weekly “date night,” we would walk to the now defunct Movies Worth Seeing video store off Highland Avenue, before ordering a pizza, to rent a movie.  Often we would ask the guys at Movies to recommend films, which would almost always turn out to be not age-appropriate for us – titles such as A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, MEET THE FEEBLES, BLUE VELVET and SHIVERS. We never hesitated to rent their picks because, like most young girls who frequented Movies at that time, we were madly in love with staff-member John Robinson.

This particular Saturday evening, however, John was off somewhere with his long-term relationship girlfriend, so instead of making an effort to impress him, we picked VALLEY GIRL, a movie neither of us knew very much about. All I knew was that I had just seen CAN’T BUY ME LOVE for the first time and I was ready to watch anything in that genre.  Although VALLEY GIRL is nothing like SHIVERS or A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, it is rated R, so that meant it had to be at least a little inappropriate or us, making it all the more fun to watch.

That night, as we popped the tape into the VCR, I was almost relieved to watch a romantic comedy instead films with bizarre rape scenes set to the tune of “Singing in the Rain.” Little did I know that VALLEY GIRL (and its intelligent and honest depiction of teens in love with an ending that as I grew up I would come to see as melancholy and thought-provoking) would affect me more deeply than the films mentioned earlier, albeit for entirely different reasons and in different ways.

As we watched, it was obvious to us that the story of VALLEY GIRL was timeless, utilizing universal literary themes, most notably ROMEO AND JULIET, which VALLEY GIRL has been cited as being very loosely based upon. It doesn’t stop there, however; lyrics from numerous Motown girl group songs floated in and out of my head as I watched, such as “He’s a Rebel” by The Crystals and The Shangri-La’s “Leader of the Pack.” We also see these themes in a number of films that were made prior to 1983, such as GREASE, MY FAIR LADY, THE PALM BEACH STORY and, my personal favorite, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT.

When all is said and done in VALLEY GIRL, the punks stay punk and the girls stay valley. Many characters become much more self-aware and some even change. These transformations, however, are all on the inside. One of the central messages of the film is very much the opposite of both GREASE and MY FAIR LADY, in which the female protagonists must change the way they dress, speak and their mannerisms and, in GREASE, her morals. This outward alteration is not only in order for their respective men to realize that they are deeply in love, but necessary for these relationships to succeed, or even happen at all. In VALLEY GIRL, as well as THE PALM BEACH STORY and IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, the lesson to be learned is not that you must change who you are and how you dress in order to be with the one you love, no matter how different the two may be from one another.  Sometimes we simply cannot help who we love, even when it makes no sense.

The closing limousine scene in VALLEY GIRL (1983). MGM Home Entertainment.

Another central message of VALLEY GIRL that goes hand in hand with the one above is that love has absolutely nothing to do with how we dress or which side of the tracks we come from. Instead, it is much more about a connection inexplicably felt between two people. In fact, during their first night together, Julie blushingly tells Randy that she is experiencing this exact feeling. By the look in his eyes at that moment, it is obvious that he feels it as well. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT uses a similar concept – these two people, one rich and stuck-up and the other a drunk out-of-work newspaperman, should in no way be in love. In fact, throughout the entire movie, they fight it all the way. But in the end, they give in and the Walls of Jericho come tumbling down, because this lesson is the same as that of VALLEY GIRL – you cannot help who you love.

At the close of the film, Randy and Julie ride off in a limousine, slipping out of Julie’s prom as a food fight ensues. The last image of VALLEY GIRL is Julie in her prom dress and Randy in his nice-for-a-punk-rocker suit, seated side by side in a limo, looking straightforward. One is left to wonder if the film’s ending is a happy one, full of promise, or if it is meant to be reminiscent of THE GRADUATE (1967). In that film, Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) interrupts the wedding of Elaine (Katharine Ross) and Carl (Brian Avery), causing a physical altercation. Elaine and Benjamin are able to break away from the chapel and proceed to board a bus. They sit in the very back seats, with Elaine in her wedding gown and Benjamin in his tattered clothing. For a moment, there is a feeling of triumphant possibility and an infinite future, where nothing is too late, as spoken by Elaine to Benjamin upon his arrival at the chapel.  This moment, however, is a fleeting one, quickly overshadowed by reality and the uncertainty of the future that at one time felt magical. When the director of VALLEY GIRL, Martha Coolidge, mimics this ending, she subtly brings up similar reality-based questions involving what is next for our couple.  By doing so, she is able to set VALLEY GIRL apart from many other films of its genre.

Katharine Ross and Dustin Hoffman in the closing scene of THE GRADUATE (1967). MGM Home Entertainment.

Interestingly, when I was younger I could only see that in the end the boy got the girl, despite all of the obstacles placed in front of him. Years later, when I was no longer a teenager, I still could see VALLEY GIRL as I did in the seventh grade, but also began noticing the melancholy nature of the end as well as the director’s ability to turn ridiculous ’80s teen stereotypes into characters that feel as though they are actual human beings. I cannot wait to find out what I am able to learn about VALLEY GIRL this time around.

Video Links:

VALLEY GIRL well known loooooove montage: “I Melt With You”

Break Up Scene from VALLEY GIRL: Nicolas Cage does a great impression of a Valley girl (lots of F-bombs).

Club Scene from VALLEY GIRLwhen Julie and Randy fall in love and she mentions that connection she feels for him and so on “it’s like we’re linked or something.”

THE GRADUATE End Sequence.

THE PLAZA (2010): Documentary by Matt Rasnick about The Plaza Theatre’s struggle to survive in a world of multiplexes.

If you have any additional questions or to make a donation to Save The Plaza Theatre via Pay Pal, please visit www.PlazaAtlanta.com.

Emily Jane McFarland is an Atlanta-based photographer and the Manager of The Plaza Theatre. This is her first article for ATLRetro.com. 

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One Response to “Going Totally ’80s to Save the Plaza: VALLEY GIRL Like Embodies Classic Romantic and Cinematic Themes, Fer Sure!”


  1. John Robinson
    on Apr 26th, 2012
    @ 2:56 pm

    Wait, I think it was Emily Jane who hipped ME to Cronenberg’s oeuvre when she was in 7th grade – i was into, like, Babysitters Club up until that point 😉

    So cool yet so humble – still aspiring to her level…

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