“She bought an entire bunch of nothing in there,” Frank Zappa sings in “Valley Woman,” his 1982 novelty tune and the unique supply for a sure Southern Californian, well-to-do, teen-bimbo stereotype. Zappa, recognized for his satirical, experimental compositions, had been impressed to document the tune together with his child, who imitated her private-school classmates on the recording. Referring to the area most related to this vacuous determine, Zappa advised David Letterman, “It’s maybe one of the vital disgusting locations on the face of the Earth, and I wrote this tune concerning the values of the folks within the San Fernando Valley.” Such scorn stays a typical response to the Valley-girl archetype. She now not has to reside in California and even be an adolescent, however she nonetheless represents a selected form of frivolous suburbanite inspired by a client society to do little greater than store, get together, and tan. Different examples embrace Cher from Clueless, Elle from Legally Blonde, the Kardashians, and any variety of Actual Housewives. But the Valley lady has at all times been a very straightforward goal—and one movie, launched shortly after the Zappa single, understood that.
The 1983 romantic comedy Valley Woman, directed by Martha Coolidge, is a contemporary reimagining of Romeo and Juliet written by the movie producers Andrew Lane and the late Wayne Crawford. Initially, they noticed the movie as a means of benefiting from “what at the moment you’d name a ‘viral’ factor,” Lane advised me. But even because the movie drew on teen-girl tropes, it handled its characters with care somewhat than ire, taking its children significantly. Valley Woman has at all times been recognized amongst its admirers for going deeper than it was anticipated to. It’s why this 12 months—the movie’s fortieth anniversary—noticed a string of screenings supported by filmmakers similar to Karyn Kusama and Kevin Smith. It must also be acknowledged for refocusing the essential critique of youth materialism to a wider touch upon societal materialism.
Valley Woman’s writers initially pitched it, in Lane’s phrases, as much like Shakespeare’s traditional tragedy however “with out the demise,” enjoying off long-standing tensions between surfers in L.A. and Valley interlopers. On the time, Lane mentioned, the film studio Atlantic Leisure was getting squeezed out of the art-house market by greater gamers and wanted a brand new indie; it gave Lane and Crawford the inexperienced gentle and $350,000. The considerably slapdash manufacturing values of Valley Woman are little question all the way down to the comparatively low finances (Coolidge was paid $5,000) and the truth that the film was written in about 10 days, in accordance with Lane. The group was in preproduction inside mere weeks, and filming happened over a single month.
Lane had thought-about making Valley Woman his directorial debut, however he knew Coolidge by means of a mutual pal. “Placing my producer’s hat on, I kind of thought it may not be a foul concept to rent a lady,” Lane advised me, including, “clearly, it’s a lady’s story.” Coolidge had already directed 1976’s Not a Fairly Image, based mostly on a sexual assault she skilled as a youngster, and was recognized for being good with actors. Below her path, there was restricted flesh and fornication in Valley Woman, not like a slew of different teen comedies on the time. “It isn’t really the getting of the person who is sizzling on the display,” Coolidge says within the movie’s commentary observe. “It’s the wanting.” As Lane put it, “We needed ours to be extra of a love story than a narrative of lust and overheated hormones.” Regardless of being named after an archetype, Valley Woman’s story was pushed by people, not caricatures. The unique script had neither a falling-in-love nor a breakup scene—these had been Coolidge’s concepts, and he or she helped with the rewrites. Zappa used his daughter’s playful mockery of her friends to disparage their vacuity, however Coolidge and the forged frolicked at excessive faculties in an effort to actually perceive women like them. “I don’t like films which can be snooty towards their topics,” she advised The New York Instances, “so we tried to get to the supply.”
The movie definitely embraces Valleyspeak. “He’s bought the bod, however his brains are dangerous information,” is likely one of the first strains spoken by Julie (Valley Woman’s model of Shakespeare’s Juliet, performed by Deborah Foreman). But the road additionally means that this sun-kissed babe buying along with her mates shouldn’t be as superficial as one would possibly suppose. Her hippie dad and mom personal a health-food retailer and encourage her individuality, so when she will get bored of her boyfriend, Tommy—regardless of her mates lauding him as “bitchin’”—it’s not an entire shock. Julie needs one thing new—as Valley women typically do—and, as if the gods have heard her name, Randy (her Romeo, performed by Nicolas Cage) emerges from the surf like a janky Poseidon, together with his galumphing gait and spiky crimson hair. “You’ll see issues that you simply’ve solely examine in books,” one in every of Randy’s mates tells her when the 2 go on a primary date. Simply as within the movie’s supply materials, the primary characters find yourself collectively regardless of each demand to not.
Though Valley Woman is purportedly about its titular heroine, Randy instructions each house. His outsize presence serves a function: It exhibits, time and again, that he and Julie aren’t so totally different; the film refuses to outline them solely by their milieus. Randy’s humor surfaces in Cage’s personal comedic timing, as within the scene of him ready for Julie in a slim bathe stall at a home get together, his tall physique folding in on itself, or within the montage of him popping up in numerous disguises round her after she has dumped him. However he additionally turns into a automobile for Valley Woman’s class commentary: Julie and her rich friends sport crisp pastels and suppose Randy and his pal Fred, of their ratty, nightclub-ready somber colours, are “slumming it.” Because the movie progresses, the lovers’ outfits converge—Julie wears black leather-based; Randy wears powder blue—and the divide between them turns into much less distinct. They’ve invaded one another’s lives and diluted the distinction.
So when Julie dumps Randy for Tommy (actually dumping him in an effort to hold her disapproving mates), Randy mocks her speech—“Fuck off, for positive, like, completely,” Cage ad-libbed—as a means of mocking her social circle somewhat than her particularly. Their breakup exhibits how materialistic class pressures can supplant folks’s actual needs. These calls for overshadow even the ostensibly completely satisfied ending of Valley Woman, by which Randy disrupts Julie’s promenade and persuades her to decide on him in any case. In a callback to The Graduate, the couple sit aspect by aspect in a limo, the load of getting chosen one another over everybody else lastly dawning on them. Nonetheless, by sacrificing her friendships—the teenager model of household—the movie legitimizes Julie’s evolution from a younger girl outlined by society to at least one who’s free to outline herself.
Valley Woman rapidly recouped its cash on opening weekend and went nationwide, finally incomes greater than $17 million. It met a beneficiant vital reception too. “Coolidge hasn’t made a campy, condescending comedy, however a satiric romance, by which the background gags and caricatures contribute to a way of serious conflicts and strong feelings,” Dave Kehr wrote at the Chicago Reader. “It’s irresistible.” The writers and director of Valley Woman selected authenticity over artifice, traded in a sneer for sensitivity, and the viewers purchased it. Viewers knew the issue was not the Valley lady however the world by which she discovered herself. And although even the movie’s writers might have seen it as a lady’s story, it proved to be for everybody.