Movie Review ~ Valley Girl (2020)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A valley girl and a punk rocker from the city defy their parents and friends to stay together.

Stars: Jessica Rothe, Josh Whitehouse, Mae Whitman, Judy Greer, Rob Huebel, Chloe Bennet, Ashleigh Murray, Jessie Ennis, Logan Paul, Alicia Silverstone

Director: Rachel Lee Goldenberg

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 102 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: I hadn’t thought about the original Valley Girl for quite a long time.  The 1983 indie comedy was made for peanuts but went on to gross a tidy sum at the box office, inspiring a new wave of vernacular and introducing a stellar soundtrack on top of it all.  Oh, and it also gave leading man Nicolas Cage (Color Out of Space) his first taste of Hollywood hunkdom…a title well-earned as the rock n’ roll Romeo to Deborah Foreman’s Juliet of the California valley.  The film is firmly considered a cult classic and, watching it again recently I was reminded how much of a time capsule it is while remarkably remaining timeless at the same time.  It’s a strong, funny, touching film.

So when the first preview popped up for this remake I, like I’m sure many others did, wondered “why now?” and “who gave them the right”…you know, your typical rumble and grumble any time a new version of a old chestnut is announced.  Originally filmed two years ago but with its released delayed until now, that didn’t put a lot of confidence in this musical (yes, you heard that right, musical) reworking of Valley Girl so I was prepared to grit my teeth through another uninspired rehash of something that worked just fine. Now, I’m not sure if it’s because the quarantine blues are getting to me but I have to tell you…this is one totally tripindicular remake and exactly the kind of shot in the arm delight I needed.

The story is essentially the same.  It’s 1980-something and Julie Richmond (Jessica Rothe, Happy Death Day, Happy Death Day 2 U) is a high-school senior living a pastel colored, mall-going life with her equally side-ponied friends.  Between stops at The Limited and days at the beach, they plan for life at community college and talk boys and fashion.  Yet Julie longs for something more…even just over the hills of the valley into Hollywood…something her plastic friends scoff at.  Then she meets rocker Randy (Josh Whitehouse) at a costume party (you’ll want to have your pause/rewind button handy to catch the brilliantly referential attire the kids are wearing) and her world is opened up to a new beat.

As Randy and Julie grow closer, she drifts away from her friends and the path she thought she was originally headed for.  This causes unplanned relationship cracks not just for Julie but for Randy and his bandmates (The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s Mae Whitman and Mario Revolori) and it’s a credit to Amy Talkington’s script that more time is given in this remake in fleshing out the lives of both Julie and Randy.  In the original, all Randy had was Julie so his love felt a little desperate…now he has some ambition of his own outside of their relationship so you get the impression his eggs aren’t all in one glittery basket.  In the end, Julie and Randy need to figure out if their love is strong enough to rise above the naysayers and make the leap forward together.

Set to a hefty score of familiar 80s tunes, this is a jukebox musical that is pretty much nonstop fun.  I spent most of the film wondering why this hadn’t been turned into a stage musical already (something I also wondered while watching Moonstruck recently, too) because it translates into a musical with smooth ease.  Opening with a candy colored dance at the mall ain’t a bad way to kick things off and it’s followed by head bopping musical numbers staged at the beach, an aerobics studio, and a roller rink, among others.  Director Rachel Lee Goldenberg leans into the 80s setting and campy nature but avoids falling into the trap of making it overly goofy.  The costumes may be turned up to 12 but that doesn’t mean the dialogue and performances have to follow suit.  That’s why you easily forgive some of the plot contrivances that get you from point A to point B.  What always has held me back from fully embracing the 1983 film was that there never seemed to be a lot of reason behind actions — here we get to know each character a bit more so every cliche plot device thrown at us goes down a little easier because by the time it arrives we understand people a little bit better.  It’s not deep stuff but it helps things out more than you can imagine.

Like the previous incarnation, the film thrives on the charisma of its leading actors and Rothe and Whitehouse make a charming couple, with good singing voices to match their movie star looks.  The screenplay gives Randy a female companion to make it less a boys v girls standoff and while Whitman plays off Whitehouse nicely I missed the interesting male dynamic created between Cage and Cameron Dye from the original.  As Rothe’s gal pals, Chloe Bennet, Ashleigh Murray, and Jessie Ennis (Life of the Party), may get less arcs than their previous counterparts but what they lack in development they gain in song with Bennet and Murray getting full out musical numbers and Ennis having a sweet presence on screen.  The film is bookended with Alicia Silverstone (The Lodge) as an older Julie recounting her younger days to her teenage daughter and while I loved seeing 90s star Silverstone popping up and can see why the framework was used, every time the movie went back to her it took me out of things a little bit. Special note, keep your eyes open for cameos from two stars from the original…both used in nice moments that make you go “Was that?  Really?  No!  Yes?  Maybe!  It was!”.

At this point of the #StayHome #StayHealthy quarantine days I’m starting to feel a little blue, if I’m being perfectly honest, and I felt like this movie came along at just the right time.  Like the original movie, it’s not going to change the world in any major way but for 90 or so odd minutes it gets the job done and does it with a totally rad amount of good will and heart.  Best of all, it pays extremely decent homage to its predecessor without sullying our fond memories of it.  Take on this one…

Movie Review ~ Life of the Party

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: After her husband abruptly asks for a divorce, a middle-aged mother returns to college in order to complete her degree.

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Gillian Jacobs, Maya Rudolph, Julie Bowen, Matt Walsh, Molly Gordon, Stephen Root, Jacki Weaver, Adria Arjona, Debby Ryan, Luke Benward, Jessie Ennis, Heidi Gardner

Director: Ben Falcone

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 105 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: I’ve got good news and bad news for you if you’re considering making a trip to the movies to see Life of the Party this Mother’s Day weekend. The bad news is that most of the jokes have been spoiled for you in the previews, the good news is that the two best jokes haven’t. A semi-refreshing twist on the old fish-out-of-water/parent-going-back-to-school storyline, this isn’t a movie out to reinvent the comedic wheel but it does manage to capably overcome initial tone problems. What results is a sweet, if completely predictable, comedy that has its heart and brain in the right place.

The third collaboration between star Melissa McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone (What to Expect When You’re Expecting), Life of the Party represents the best of their work together so far. Their first outing was 2014’s Tammy, a movie so godawful I don’t permit its name to be uttered in my presence. They bounced back in 2016 with The Boss, which found more humor, less aggravation, and an overall better script. Writing together allows the couple to play off McCarthy’s strengths but continues to show Falcone’s weakness as a director – I’d love to see what another director would do with one of their screenplays.

Frumpy housewife Deanna (McCarthy, Spy) and her husband Dan (Matt Walsh, Into the Storm) have just dropped their daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon, Love the Coopers) off for her last year of college when Dan announces he wants a divorce. He’s fallen in love with a realtor (Julie Bowen) and is selling their house, leaving Deanna without a home or an income. In a surge of confidence, Deanna decides to reenroll at the same college she dropped out of in her senior year 20 years earlier…the college her daughter now attends.

Going back to school to finish her archeology degree, Deanna finds that while the times have changed the people getting the college experience haven’t. There’s still the mean girl (Debby Ryan) who tears down anything she doesn’t deem cool, the parties are drunken ragers, the sorority sisters have the same doubt about their futures, and Deanna’s fear of public speaking hasn’t dissipated over the last two decades. That proves especially hard during the film’s funniest sequence by far, when Deanna has to give an oral presentation that quickly devolves into a sweaty, knee-buckling, nightmare.

Still, a few things in her homecoming to co-ed life catch her off-guard. Unexpected bonding with her daughter tops the list as well as a realization she can reclaim some of the years she feels were spent in a troubled marriage by returning to finish what she started. Then there’s the romance with Jack (Luke Benward), a younger frat boy which takes some surprisingly genuine turns as the movie progresses. Eventually, even with one nice twist involving Jack, the movie works toward its predictable conclusion yet even though you know where it’s all heading it’s not hard in the least to sit back and be entertained.

That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have moments that call for a markdown on the final grade. As is usually the case with these McCarthy/Falcone features, there’s an overabundance of periphery characters that serve no purpose to any of the characters or the story. Usually friends (or family!) of the director and star, these annoying additions pad the running time and bring down some of the solid funny framework that has been created. Even the usually dependable Maya Rudolph (The Way Way Back) is given far too long a leash as Deanna’s friend – I almost wonder what things would have looked like had Rudolph and the tightly wound and miscast Bowen had swapped roles. There’s also at least one too many sorority sisters for my money. And Deanna’s parents (Jacki Weaver, Stoker, and Stephen Root, Trumbo) could have been removed all together and no one would have been the wiser.

You also have to ding the couple for not editing their films better or providing information to fill in large gaps that go unexplained. It’s never clear until far too late how Deanna is paying for college or what hoops she had to jump through to get back to her studies in less than several weeks. Timelines are also fuzzy, with events either happening too close together or too spaced out and, as with most college movies, everyone seems to only go to one class or not attend at all.

Yet the film is getting high marks from me because even with all these nitpicks, there’s a certain whiff of clean air and good intentions that keep this one afloat. McCarthy again carries an entire film on her shoulders and while that might get exhausting after a while she’s got the boundless energy to pull out all the stops when called upon to do so. While she’s never one to shy away from physical stunts, this is another pleasant example of McCarthy’s continued maturing as a performer with her comedy coming from situational happenstance instead of corporeal humor. Whether she’s dancing in ‘80s-inspired couture, trashing a wedding reception, or performing alongside a pop star’s amusing cameo, there’s always a human being underneath it all.