Almost as soon as Halloween and Porky's established the template for teen-friendly sex and violence in the late '70s and early '80s, a fresh wave of product swept in to please the critics and flush away the scum of the multiplex. Even the making-of featurette on the new DVD of 1985's The Sure Thing sports the title "Not Just Another '80s Teen Movie," as though there could be no worse fate. And yet, while The Sure Thing remains a lightly charming junior romance, with John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga as bickering collegians who fall in love while traveling cross-country, the movie feels a little stingless in hindsight. It suffers from a behind-the-curve soundtrack (Huey Lewis? Lionel Richie?) and director Rob Reiner's chronic weakness for broad comedy. And it strives so hard for respectability that even the direct steals from It Happened One Night seem more safe than sweet. Nearly two decades later, Cusack remains the film's strongest element: He's not believable as an Ivy Leaguer (or a kid unable to score), but he still shows the genteel self-awareness that made him a generational favorite. Similarly, the wooden acting and threadbare plot of the 1983 Romeo And Juliet-meets-The Graduate-meets-MTV love story Valley Girl is almost entirely redeemed by the stung cockiness of Nicolas Cage. In his first leading role, Cage plays a Hollywood punk who woos suburban preppie Deborah Foreman over the protests of her pink-clad, synth-pop-loving friends. Before John Hughes became the auteur of mature teen angst, Cage and Foreman's romance had a reputation as the best the genre had to offer (a title that rightly should have gone to Fast Times At Ridgemont High). Valley Girl holds up pretty well, thanks to Cage, some anthropologically valuable shots of shopping malls and the Sunset Strip, and the sensitive illustration of adolescent self-consciousness provided by director Martha Coolidge. It almost doesn't matter that Cage and Foreman's differences seem ridiculously slight; what matters is that they feel like they're being judged, which Coolidge re-emphasizes by having most of their romantic encounters end with someone barging in. The Sure Thing and Valley Girl suffer most from being overrated by fans, who have deep personal connections to these movies for reasons that range from the instant nostalgia of the clothes and music to specific memories of swapping quotes with friends. As cinema goes, though, one of the best of the era is Boaz Davidson's prickly 1982 comedy The Last American Virgin, which MGM has released on DVD with none of the special features it lavished on The Sure Thing and Valley Girl. (And if ever a movie needed supplemental explanation, it's The Last American Virgin.) Based on Davidson's own Israeli film series, the Lemon Popsicle movies, the film follows a timid, almost effete Lawrence Monoson and his two best high-school friends as they fumble around, looking for action. Davidson's European sensibility shows up in lengthy, well-developed comic setpieces, as well as in his leads' clothing, which looks like an early-'80s outsider's idea of cool. A powerhouse soundtrack–with the songs deployed slyly, as comment and foreshadowing–and a stunning ending balance the copious nudity and slapstick raunch which have led some to dismiss The Last American Virgin as distasteful. Really, the film's frankness makes it more honest than its dreamy-eyed descendants; even the shallow treatment of girls captures the point of view of a luckless teenage boy. Reiner and Coolidge went on to more impressive careers, but Davidson's tawdry exploitation exercise, with its raw depiction of real adolescent hang-ups, retains the most nostalgia-free impact.
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