Jessica Rothe and Josh Whitehouse in VALLEY GIRL (2020) | ©2020 Orion Pictures

Jessica Rothe and Josh Whitehouse in VALLEY GIRL (2020) | ©2020 Orion Pictures

Rating: PG-13
Stars: Jessica Rothe, Josh Whitehouse, Chloe Bennet, Ashleigh Murray, Jessie Ennis, Mae Whitman, Logan Paul, Alicia Silverstone, Judy Greer
Writer: Amy Talkington, story by Andrew Lane and Wayne Crawford
Director: Rachel Lee Goldenberg
Distributor: Orion Classics
Release Date (VOD and drive-ins): May 8, 2020

VALLEY GIRL is the latest movie to get partly tripped up by its title. If it were called anything except VALLEY GIRL, it would be easier to accept on its own terms. But somehow it was decided that using the name for a film very unlike the 1983 original, thereby inviting apples to cucumbers comparisons, would be better than calling it something more helpful, like ‘80S JUKEBOX MUSICAL.

To be clear, VALLEY GIRL 2020 isn’t as different from the original as it is from, say, ALIEN or RIVER’S EDGE. It’s still a romcom about Julie (played here by Jessica Rothe), an upper-middle-class Valley high schooler, and Randy (played here by Josh Whitehouse), a young Hollywood rocker, who fall for each other. His bandmates are suspicious, her friends are worried, and her parents are freaking out.

But there is still a genre difference. VALLEY GIRL 2020 is an honest-to-goodness musical, where characters burst into (established ‘80s hit) song and dance with great regularity. There’s even some MOULIN ROUGE!-type splicing, as bits of diverse songs are used to counter each other during arguments.

Chloe Bennet, Jessica Rothe, Ashleigh Murray and Jessie Ennis in VALLEY GIRL (2020) | ©2020 Orion Pictures

Chloe Bennet, Jessica Rothe, Ashleigh Murray and Jessie Ennis in VALLEY GIRL (2020) | ©2020 Orion Pictures

This aspect of VALLEY GIRL is agreeable for those who enjoy high school musicals. While skill levels vary, Chloe Bennet (from AGENTS OF SHIELD) and Ashleigh Murray (RIVERDALE and KATY KEENE) stand out in their big moments, and choreographer Mandy Moore (ZOEY’S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST) knows how to get everybody swirling around in eye-pleasing patterns. Theresa Guleserian’s production design also has a wonderful color palette that adds a sense of upbeat giddiness.

VALLEY GIRL resembles a lot of other high school projects, musical and others, in that none of the cast look like they’re in the right age group. Since this is so common as to be a genre convention, it’s not too detrimental. What is a little odd is that some of the most emotional sequences play out in dialogue, rather than song, which seems counter to the musical ethos.

A framing device has the older Julie, played by Alicia Silverstone, recounting the romance to her own teenage daughter in the present. It’s strange how 1990s icon Silverstone was chosen for the role over someone more identifiable to the 1980s, but still she’s charming even if she doesn’t seem to be the logical adult version of the Julie we see in the main sections. On the flip side of this, Judy Greer is perfect casting as younger Julie’s mother; Rothe and Greer bear an uncanny resemblance to one another.

Jessica Rothe and Josh Whitehouse in VALLEY GIRL (2020) | ©2020 Orion Pictures

Jessica Rothe and Josh Whitehouse in VALLEY GIRL (2020) | ©2020 Orion Pictures

But the sequences with the older Julie and her daughter, which keep puncturing the action, feel like a bizarre safety net, as though this version of VALLEY GIRL isn’t comfortable with its primary decade. This might make sense if there was some acute perspective in the commentary, but apart from a few shrugging remarks on the era’s fashions, there’s not much from that angle. While viewers outside of Southern California may not get the fine points of where Encino is in relation to Hollywood, today’s youth hardly needs class and clique differences spelled out for them. Take place in the ‘80s or modernize everything, but don’t try to twenty-first-century-splain it all.

Camila Marrone and Alicia Silverstone in VALLEY GIRL (2020) | ©2020 Orion Pictures

Camila Marrone and Alicia Silverstone in VALLEY GIRL (2020) | ©2020 Orion Pictures

Finally, there is that invited comparison. Rothe is a fine leading lady, a reasonable heir to Deborah Foreman, who played Julie in the ’83 edition (and has a blink if you miss it cameo here). But the ’83 Randy was played by Nicolas Cage and while Whitehouse gives an emotionally honest performance, he projects no danger whatsoever, much less Cage’s singularity. Randy is supposed to be a punk rocker, but the songs he gets are more pop and power rock.

The new VALLEY GIRL isn’t so much about conventionality being swept away the forces of charismatic unpredictability as it is a safe toe-tapper. Those who can take it for what it is will find a well-made if relatively slight diversion.

VALLEY GIRL (2020) Movie Poster | ©2020 Orion Pictures

VALLEY GIRL (2020) Movie Poster | ©2020 Orion Pictures

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