Screenwriter Amy Talkington was nine months pregnant when she pitched her vision for a musical Valley Girl remake — more than a decade ago.
“I spent my entire first six months nursing while listening to ‘80s pop songs,” she told Refinery29 over the phone. “My daughter has a strong fondness and connection to them, more than nursery songs.”
As it turns out, that was the easy part of what would become an uphill battle to get the film out into the world. Talkington wrote her draft, a director was attached to helm the project — and then, in 2010, MGM Studios went bankrupt. The project sat on a shelf for two or three years until the company emerged from its financial woes. “It miraculously made it through a transition to a completely new MGM, with all new people,” Talkington said. “Then, it was a matter of finding the right director and getting it back on track.”
That’s when Rachel Lee Goldenberg stepped onto the scene. “I was initially drawn to the idea of recreating the L.A. early ‘80s punk scene,” she said. “That discovery that Julie makes of going from her home into this cool new world and discovering this whole music and arts scene that she has no idea about? I actually had a similar experience in high school going from my small town into the nearest dirty city of Wooster, MA, and going to these punk shows and falling in love with the scene, and realizing that the world can be bigger.”
Based on Martha Coolidge’s 1983 classic starring Deborah Foreman and Nicholas Cage, the musical frames the story of titular Valley girl Julie (Foreman in the original, Happy Death Day’s Jessica Rothe in the remake) as a vivid, dance number-filled memory. After her teenage daughter (Camila Morrone) breaks up with her boyfriend in present day Los Angeles, a now grown-up Julie (Alicia Silverstone) recounts her own brush with first love back in the ‘80s. Saddled with a long-term jock boyfriend Tommy (Michael Bowen in the original, controversial YouTuber Logan Paul in the remake) she doesn’t quite care about, Julie feels like she’s just going through the motions: mall, food court, aerobics, rinse, repeat. That is, until a chance meeting with bad boy Randy (Cage in the original, The Knight Before Christmas’ Josh Whitehouse in the remake) sends her on the adventure of a lifetime. What follows is an explosion of color, leg warmers, and leather jackets as we’re thrown into the musical version of one of cinema’s most beloved coming-of-age stories.
Ahead, Talkington and Goldenberg share their memories of the original film, and the importance of having women in charge on the remake.
Refinery29: Describe the first time you watched the original Valley Girl — what stuck out to you?
Amy Talkington: I was a tween in Dallas sitting on our leather couch, and my phone rang and it was my best friend. She was like ‘Oh my god you have to turn on the TV, there’s the hottest guy in this movie called Valley Girl!’ So of course I tuned in, and immediately fell in love with him and the movie both. At the time, it felt this glimpse into what it really was to be a teenager, and a peek into this whole subculture of the Valley. It felt so real and authentic, it had an edge to it that was unexpected, and of course, I fell completely in love with Nicholas Cage.”
He’s so hot in that movie!
A.T.: He’s so fucking cool, but he’s also unapologetically romantic and able to speak his feelings. It feels like a rare combination and it’s so appealing.
Do you think that has anything to do with the film being directed by a woman?
A.T.: Yes — there’s so much about the movie that feels like it’s from the female perspective. To me, one of the most memorable scenes — that haunted me and scared me a little bit — is the one between Elizabeth Daly and Michael Bowen. The lore goes, I don’t know if this is true, that there was a certain amount of T&A [movie speak for “tits and ass”] required to be in the movie, and this is how Martha Cooldige was gonna show those boobs: In this very real, dark scene about a teenage asshole.
“It’s really cool that Rachel directed the remake — I’m grateful that a previously female-directed movie wasn’t directed by a man [the second time around].”
The musical has been in the works for a while — what was the process of getting it made?
Rachel Lee Goldenberg: “I was sent the script that Amy had been working on, and I related to Julie’s journey. That was so thrilling! As a director who loves all the different tools of storytelling, a period musical just gives you all those elements. You can be really expressionistic with the music, period design, and choreography.”
A.T. : “One of the reasons I wanted to retell the story was because of my own experience. I didn’t grow up in the Valley; I grew up in North Dallas in the kind of shiny, pop-y Galleria neighborhood. By the time I was about Julie’s age I discovered the edgy part of town with warehouses and a happening music scene, and experimental theater and art. One thing that was important to me to work into this reimagining was making it not just a love story. In my experience, I didn’t just find love there — I also found myself as an artist. I tried to infuse that into the remake.”
Valley Girl is such an iconic film. How do you take that and make your own thing while staying true to the vibe of the original?
A.T. “For me, retelling it as a musical made it a different animal than the original, while still honoring it because music was such a driving force. It almost felt like it gave me permission, like I’m not just doing a retread of what already exists in this beautiful way. It’s a take on it; an homage. Framing it in the present day with a mother telling her teenage daughter about her experiences in the ‘80s also helped explain our glossier musical take. Many of my memories are connected to music. Were they dancing on fountains? No! But that’s what it felt like.”
R.L.G.: “There’s so many things that I love about the original, but because [our remake is] a musical, taking the elements of the original that speak to our version was exciting. For example, the dynamic of the different worlds. The original did such a great job of the Valley vs. Hollywood and what that feels like and looks like. We took inspiration from that, and then asked, , What’s the musical version of that? What’s the larger-than-life version of that? It was super important for me to bring the specificity and oddball nature of the characters and not have Randy feel too cleaned up or Disney-fied.”
Mae Whitman’s character was a guy in the original film. What other elements did you update to give it a more modern twist?
R.L.G.: “I wanted to make a movie with as many women in it as possible, and loved the idea of her being in that band and having her own struggle — bringing a little more to that character. Making her a woman just spoke to what I was excited about in making the film.”
A.T.: “The most essential change was giving Julie not just a love story, but this passion, which is fashion. It’s not just about falling in love, it’s about opening up her worldview and tapping into that passion and having the courage to find inspiration and follow it. We also gave Randy his band. In the original he totally feels like a guy who was in a band but it was never stated or seen. We meet him a little bit earlier and see his world a little bit more than the original did. We also made the parents more typical ‘80s, because it felt like it might be confusing to have them be ‘70s hippies [like in the original]. But we fleshed out those parts of Julie and Randy in a conscious way.”
What were you looking for in terms of casting? How do you cast Nicholas Cage without casting Nicholas Cage?
R.L.G.: “I’ve been talking about casting since I pitched to get the job, because Nicholas Cage is so iconic and Deborah Forman is so amazing. The dirty punk edge that the original had is part of what I love about it so the last thing I wanted to do was flatten those characters and make them less interesting. I was looking for people who had genuine creativity and weirdness, not overly polished. Part of the audition was they had to sing ‘Bad Reputation.’ Josh actually did a self-tape — he made a whole music video with different angles and effects and edited it all together. He’s in a band and hyper-creative, and the more I got to know him, the more I thought he’s almost more Randy than he is actor. He’s constantly drawing and writing songs. He designed his tattoos for the movie and did a bunch of art for Randy’s apartment. He just has that unexpected strangeness that I was really attracted to for this role. For all the cast I was looking for people who were going to bring more than what was on the page and surprise me.”
Are you hoping that this movie will help a new generation discover the original?
R.L.G.: “In prep I ended up buying some copies on eBay. The only way you could get the movie was to bid on old copies. But then an L.A. theater did a screening with Martha Coolidge and a bunch of the original cast, so we all went. It’s such a delight to watch in a full theater! We got to hear the Q&A and chat with Martha and the cast at the end. It was such a cool and serendipitous way to kick off this whole project.”
A.T.: “It’s exciting! Valley Girl was never available digitally until a couple of weeks ago, so hopefully it will be discovered by a new generation. The die-hard lovers of the original should be grateful to the remake for getting them to re-release it.”
What do you hope audiences take away from your film?
A.T.: ”I hope it’s joyful and nostalgic and distracts people from the situation at hand and the darkness in our country right now. Get up and do some bad 80s dance moves!”
R.L.G.: “Amy and I got to the chance to share this seminal experience for us in discovering worlds outside of our own. If some young girl or guy sees that and gets inspired that would be the dream.”