Release year: 1983 • Posted November 10, 2013
“Remember when a movie was just a fella with a hat running away from a fella with no hair?”
Hank Hooper (30 Rock)
Before Moonstruck. Before Vampire’s Kiss. Before Honeymoon in Vegas, Raising Arizona, Peggy Sue Got Married, and Wild at Heart, there was Valley Girl. Made in the year I was born, 1983’s Valley Girl is Nicolas Cage’s first leading role. In fact, according to IMDB, it’s only his third acting credit. Up until then, he had only been in a made-for-TV movie called Best of Times and had a bit part in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. And yet Valley Girl isn’t bad. Trust me, I’m as shocked as you are.
Anything that’s based on Romeo and Juliet is doomed to suffer from formula poisoning. This movie is so obviously a modern take on Shakespeare’s play, the audience can guess how it will end as soon as it begins. The reason Valley Girl succeeds where others have failed, however, is that it bothers to create actual characters in lieu of stock ones, making it actually interesting for the viewer.
If I’ve learned anything from this project it’s that Nic Cage will deliver a full performance in any project he takes on, regardless of script quality. Here, Nic’s character has all the qualities of an angst-filled, golden-hearted punk that you’d expect him to have. In fact, he’s so believable, you have to stop and wonder whether Heath Ledger didn’t use this as inspiration for 10 Things I Hate About You.
This movie is simple. It’s a breath of fresh—albeit droll—air in a year of movies so notable you’ll probably be amazed they all came out within the same 300-day period: Scarface, Risky Business, Flashdance, Octopussy, National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Big Chill, Trading Places, War Games, Return of the Jedi. A run like that only happens once in a decade. Those of you now entering your twenties may recall the year of Iron Man, The Dark Knight, Twilight, Step Brothers, Tropic Thunder, Taken, Wall-E, Pineapple Express, Slumdog Millionaire, and this epic hunk of dog shit. Yeah, it was like that in ’83. Except with shoulder pads and much bigger hair.
Frankly, there isn’t much else to write about this movie. You already know the plot. Boy steals girl from shitty boyfriend, boy loses girl back to shitty boyfriend, boy wins girl back from shitty boyfriend. The only other things that I can think to mention are who the shitty boyfriend goes on to become (NSFW: Tarantino), and the film soundtrack’s peripheral relationship to an early ’80s homophobic music industry controversy.
The authenticity of Nic’s performance rattles the modern Cageophile. Where is his troubadour nature? Why isn’t every emotion projected at your face like a pornographic money shot? His performance is layered and subtle. It looks like he’s trying to hold back his natural Cageness in favor of the naturalistic style that Hollywood and movie critics tend to prefer. I wonder if watching these films out of chronological order was a mistake? It’ll be interesting to try to identify the point in his career when he turns the acting dial up to eleven.
But I’m straying from the point.
In Valley Girl we see a sweeter, softer Nic. A Nic who wants so badly to win back the girl, he’ll trade his ratty leather jacket for a rented prom tuxedo. It’s a better Grease with a much better leading man. Too bad he didn’t steal John Travolta’s face sooner.
- Nic Cage’s acting?
- Good. Not great. Good though
- Did his performance make the movie worse?