I lived my favorite summer in the sweet, swift months preluding my first year at UC Berkeley. My best friend, Sam, and I spent our days dashing around Los Angeles in her cherry Honda Civic, drenched in blissful, self-assured confidence kindled by the liberating highs of graduating high school.
Through the winding road of our shared girlhood, Sam and I have always come back to the movies. We spent most of our sun-dappled afternoons in theaters, finding adventure in exploring the rich array of theaters. The sprawling city Sam and I have called home somehow felt brighter and bigger — just like our egos — but simultaneously inviting and intimate. I have always loved my home in Studio City, and I have always loved my best friend Sam; yet, there was something seismic about that summer, something in the way I grew to perceive the inextricable, infallible connection between me, Sam and the San Fernando Valley. In my kaleidoscope of memories, ripples of warm nostalgia wash over me, and I find myself missing them all over again.
Sam and I grew up together, meeting on the first day of kindergarten and staying attached at the hip nearly 15 years later. By a stroke of luck, the suburbs of Studio City stitched our houses close together, and our friendship blossomed through shopping sprees on Ventura, movie screenings at the Galleria and soccer games that tore up Van Nuys park. Before I went to high school, I didn’t register the Valley’s role in our upbringing — I hadn’t realized we’re, like, literally Valley girls.
The Valley girl, as an archetype, garnered national attention in the early ’80s when Frank Zappa released his hit single “Valley Girl.” Zappa’s 14-year-old daughter Moon punctuates the pop song with short phrases intended to satirize the shallow essence of Valley girls and their shrill speech. Zappa’s song inversely tapped into the zeitgeist of a growing subculture in LA.
The next year, in 1983, Martha Coolidge directed “Valley Girl,” a movie that transposes Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” from fair Verona to the Valley. Nicolas Cage, my favorite agent of chaos, stars as Randy, a gritty punk from Hollywood, who catches the attention of a pretty, preppy Valley girl from Encino named Julie (Deborah Foreman). The movie captures Julie and her flock of “Vals” in their natural habitat: shopping, tanning and partying.
In this initial form, the Valley girl conceptualized white, upper-middle-class suburban girlhood. The Valley girl was shallow, ditzy and materialistic — she’s the perfect “Material Girl” in Ronald Reagan’s United States. She was never very bright, but she glittered in new neon dresses and crisp high-waisted jeans.
I watched Coolidge’s “Valley Girl” for the first time in quarantine — a decision mostly fueled by boredom, but then rewarded when I recognized the familiar streets of Sherman Oaks: the retro burger joint that became a Cactus Taqueria and the Du-pars that became a Sephora. I don’t think “Valley Girl” is a great movie, but it was refreshing — at least to me — to see a movie based in my home, where the land breathes as much life into the story as the young girls who inhabit it.
The Valley girl is someone I find myself frequently defending. I won’t even pretend that the stereotype isn’t, like, totally real. I always talk with bubbling breathlessness and copious use of the word “like.” It’s totally like that old phrase: You can take the girl out of the Valley, but you, like, can’t take the Valley out of the girl.
Yet, my heart lurched when I realized the Valley girl had moved out of the San Fernando Valley to Malibu in “Legally Blonde” and Beverly Hills in “Clueless.” To the untrained eye, it may seem trifling to lament the Valley girl’s emergence in different parts of Southern California. The cultural imagination and fantastical Hollywood spectacles project LA as a sweltering, superficial monolith where the proud palm trees have stronger spines than the people. Every LA borough finds its lifeline in its people, and my roots have made me fiercely protective over the Valley and Valley girls.
So, in my adventurous summer with Sam, I never expected to find a cinematic love letter addressed to our home. As we got comfortable in the push seats of our tried and true ArcLight theater, however, a surprising sentiment came from Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut “Booksmart.”
It felt profound to watch Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) share a friendship so uncannily similar to mine and Sam’s. The film plants deep roots in LA, from the Burbank high school to Lido Pizza in Van Nuys. It was refreshing to see two girls from the Valley bond in a vividly human connection and watch their friendship grow.
“Booksmart” rewrites the Valley girl into a realized character with depth, flaws, quirks and wit. The familiar pillars of my upbringing were depicted and humanized with unmatched ease.
Watching “Booksmart” with my lifelong best friend, I became consumed by a profound feeling of being understood. My sense of girlhood is inextricably of the Valley, and my connection with my best friend runs just as deep. It feels like the Valley girl is growing up, and I’m, like, totally pumped to see where she goes next.