Monday, February 15, 2010

The Vals (James Polakof, 1982)

A flourishing culture germinating in one of the most inhospitable environments on the planet is the best way to describe the inexplicable prosperity of the Valley Girl: a distinct classification of seemingly narcissistic adolescents struggling to survive in the arid landscape just north of the Los Angeles Basin. Fostering their own language, and, not to mention, a wide array of sacred rights and rituals, the constantly giggling female persons that populate this particular region of space thrive by remaining gleefully unaware of the goings on around them. In fact, this unique form of ignorance insulates them on such a profound level, that many may not even know who the current leader of their nation is. Yet, since things like "nations" and "countries" are a completely made-up construct designed to keep people isolated from one another, the gals give off an air of accidental profundity. Which pretty sums the spiritual fortitude of The Vals, the unjustly overlooked companion to the eerily similar Valley Girl. Blissfully decelerated in the conventional reasoning department, the four young ladies who are the main focus of this cinematic unmasking wield their verbal singularity like it were a spiky club laced with high rising intonations. The steady stream of mocking they endure from their Shakespeare extolling teachers, cocaine snorting parents, and those flavourless tarts from Beverly Hills only manage to reinforce their resolve. You see, according to their unclouded minds, oral communication is the cornerstone of their identity. Take it away from them, and all you're left with is a sexy corpse draped in an expensive layer of loud pastels and frilly nonsense.

As you wouldn't expect, the sight of these language pioneers masquerading as brainless twits fiercely protecting their linguistic legacy was one of the many unintentional joys of this not-so aimless enterprise. Despite being repeatedly scolded for their stupid manner of speaking, the girls say, "grody to the max" and "for sure" like it were a badge that contains properties that are honourable in nature.

The film tries to lull you into thinking that it's just another mindless piece of inconsequential fluff. Writer-director James Polakof (Satan's Mistress) attempts to do this by showing alcoholic beverages consumed via unorthodox means, scantily clad inner tube riding, and saucier than usual lingerie shopping. But all this is, like, just an elaborate ruse to get you to stop gazing in the general direction of your navel for more than fifteen seconds and start thinking about the suffering of others. And that's exactly what Samantha (Jill Carroll), Trish (Elena Stratheros), Beth (Michele Laurita), and Annie (Gina Calabrese) purpose to do while languishing in the food court of the Sherman Oaks Galleria (in reality, a mall located somewhere in Stockton, California) one sunny afternoon.

Putting aside the self-admitted pettiness of their own day-to-day problems, the girls decide to care more about society and less about clothes. Ill-equipped for the off-kilter world that awaits them on the other side of the expressway, the girls find themselves in over their heads when they haphazardly choose a ten year-old drug dealer as the recipient of their first good deed.

This, of course, leads to trouble, and the girls end up getting mixed up with a couple of grownup drug dealers named Lance (Michael Leon) and Stone (Robert Dyer a.k.a. the lead scumbag from Savage Streets), a dilapidated orphanage run by John Carradine, and a nocturnal horse racing ring (which, ironically, are raced in order to win each other's cars).

The seemingly inadvertent manner in which the girls in The Vals go about their charity work is the film's greatest attribute. Okay, the sight of the four leads frolicking and cavorting in a sisterly explosion of apparel-based gaudiness and womanly togetherness was the film's most crucial dimension. However, the fact that half of the Valley Girls didn't even realize they helping to save an orphanage was part of the charm. One of the girls, for example, appears genuinely shocked every time the dire situation of the drug dealing minor is brought up.

Another big plus was the way that each Val gal was totally distinguishable from one another by film's end. I mean, to be honest, there were a couple of instances early on when I thought I was have gonna have a hard time being able to tell the difference between say, Beth and Annie. But thanks to the richly worded screenplay–one that deftly takes in account the prospect that there could be as many as four women on screen at any given moment–the characters are all given distinct personalities.

A full-bodied screenplay is nothing without corporeal vessels to flesh out the characters wasting away on the page, and The Vals delivers by casting a virtual cornucopia of talented actresses to enunciate the complicated Valspeak.

Leading the charge when it comes to being totally awesome and junk is Jill Carroll as Samantha, the eye-rolling, horse riding conscience of group. Pensive, yet vacuous, Jill does a terrific job portraying a Valley Girl who's in the midst of a personality crisis. She wants to shield her unique way of life from the scourge of the outside world, but she also craves its unsavoury delights.

Playing the sexpot of this particular Valley Girl clique is Annie (Gina Calabrese). Sporting large breasts and a pair of legs that look particularly divine while encased in white tights, the impish brunette loves cock, but longs for snow. And, no, I don't mean cocaine, I'm talking about actual snow. (Chuck Connors, on the other hand, loves cocaine - he plays Trish's dad.)

The head drug dealer may have been drawn to the wide-eyed Samantha, but my perverted leer was always fixated on the sensual splendour that was Trish, the Val I alluded to earlier who kept forgetting that they were helping a little kid extract himself from a life of crime and degradation. The blonde hair, the blank expression, the affinity for over-pronouncing her Valley-isms, and her overall selfishness all combined to create an almost heavenly figure. Exquisitely shaped and molded by actress extraordinaire, Elena Stratheros, the always horny Trish is not only a role model for girls and boys, but for every living creature that possesses eyes, ears, and the ability to discern things that are truly amazing.

Whether inquiring about the functionality of a specialty condom or causing one to rethink their opinion of ladies who excel in the field of fraternity beer bongs, Michele Laurita is absolutely adorable as Beth, the prerequisite goofball of the group. When I wasn't leering at Trish, I was definitely keeping tabs on what Michele was bringing to the Val table. Well, you couldn't help but notice her, as her body language was quite expressive. The sight of Miss Laurita hoping into the back of Trish's Mercedes (which she does about six or seven times) was always an event. (I would love to see the outtakes, as I bet she missed the car completely on several occasions.)

Anyway, the film ends with a succinct recap that covers all the antics the girls get into over the course of the film. Proving in an unequivocal manner that in fact each character is utterly unique. And while it may not have the star power and the killer soundtrack of its Martha Coolidge-directed rival, The Vals is still fascinating portrait of a misunderstood subculture.



  1. "[horses] which, ironically, are raced in order to win each other's cars"

    And Nicholas Cage wasn't in this one.

    Here's a not-so-great, but pretty great, little pic of Calabrese.

  2. This is just a wonderful piece of writing, Yum-Yum. Like, totally. So kudos to the max!

    Also, Gina Calabrese was in VICIOUS LIPS! I think we can no longer ignore the dictates of fate. You have to see that movie.

    If you can't find a copy, let me know. ;)

  3. @Darius Whiteplume: Is that a Gone in 60 Seconds reference (pin on your uniform)?

    Feel free to share any other pictures you have of Gina Calabrese crouching slightly in a black bikini with gold inlay. :)

    @The Vicar of VHS: Thanks for the totally awesome kudos, T-VOV. :)

    Tell me about it. My eyeballs and Vicious Lips have definitely got a date with destiny.

    Will do.

  4. Alexandre Bilodeau!!! Woot!

    Dude, a new restaurant opened in our little burg. It serves poutine!

    I'll echo what the Vicar said. Great review.

  5. I'm so out of it, that for a second there I thought Alexandre Bilodeau was in The Vals. But yeah, the moguls guy... Woot, indeed.

    Mmmmm, poutine. The perfect greasy snack for those who dislike ketchup.

    (I've never had poutine, so approach my "mmmm" with some caution.)

    Thanks, K.A. :)