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Uncaged - Valley Girl (1983) & Rumble Fish (1983)

This year, I am going to try to get through the whole oeuvre of Nicolas Cage because my fascination with this man and his contradictions is endless. God help me.

Valley Girl (1983)

I definitely liked this movie more the second time around, mainly because I stopped focusing on the silly and, I still think, unconvincing romance at the center involving Deborah Foreman’s titular valley girl Julie and the punk from the wrong side of the tracks Randy played by the Cage (going by his new moniker for the first time in his first starring role). Instead, I saw this movie as a picture of a society that was wallowing in prosperity during the early Reagan era and how it was affecting not just the youth but the parents. I actually enjoyed the performances of the parents the most, particularly Colleen Camp and Frederic Forrest as baby boomer parents desperately trying to balance the counterculture that they had grown up with during their youth and the responsibilities of parenthood during an increasingly materialistic age. All the parents seemed about as old as their kids and many of them were deliberately trying to hold onto their youth and beauty, such as Beth, the stepmother of one of Julie’s friends who is coming on hot and heavy to the almost-boyfriend of her stepdaughter.

As for the Cage, he acquits himself fine although he has the stereotypical role of the tough guy turned romantic sap over a girl who honestly took awhile for me to see beyond just her stereotype. I guess it was supposed to be the relationship between her parents that showed how she was a good girl after all, and while I liked those scenes, it was definitely not enough character development for her. Also, the fact that he ends up with Julie because he basically beats the shit out of his romantic rival right before he’s about to be crowned prom king along with Julie seems iffy to say the least. There’s a bit more social commentary than I thought was going on at first glance, but this film is very much a relic of its time.

Rumble Fish (1983)

I had seen scenes from Rumble Fish before watching in in full, but nothing really prepared me for what Coppola was doing in this movie. Basically, he made a YA novel into Hiroshima Mon Amour. He drew from everything from German expressionism to existentialist philosophy for the look and feel of the film and the performances of the actors. I read an interview with Coppola in which he said that he was working backwards compared to most filmmakers. Films like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, which would often be seen as the culmination of most filmmakers’ careers, came early for him and ever since then he has been progressively smaller and artier films, until we get to what many consider the nadir of his career, the Tetros and the Youth Without Youths. Just the fact that Coppola chose to make his film this way for a genre most people dismiss makes Rumble Fish kind of great. So many film adaptations of YA novels are so homogenous and generic, riddled with awkward performances and clumsy art design and cinematography, that this film is a refreshing and stern reminder of how a director could actually approach this material. It’s tempting to see this movie as style over substance, but I thought his artistic choices made sense within the context of the movie. First of all, the Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke) has colorblindness and supposedly can only see in black and white, and the deliberate seriousness of the film gives weight to the rather serious problems of poverty and hopelessness that both Rusty James (Matt Dillon) and his brother, the Motorcycle Boy, face.

The Nic Cage quotient is not too high, since his main purpose is to be one of Rusty James’ crew and start dating Patty (Diane Lane), which cuts off yet another connection that Rusty James has to people around him. It’s really the Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke show with Rourke playing a fascinating mix of philosopher and rebel outsider, all while channeling Marlon Brando and James Dean.

 

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