Welcome to this month’s edition of ComingSoon.net’s I Wish I Made That, in which filmmakers Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here, Mohawk) and Victoria Negri (Gold Star) each pick a film they wish they had actually made! This discussion focuses on the Nicolas Cage comedies Valley Girl (1983) and Vampire’s Kiss (1988). Check out their conversation below!
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Victoria Negri is an actress, producer, writer, and director known for The Walk (2020) and The Fever and the Fret (2018). Gold Star, her 2017 debut feature as director, served as the final onscreen performance by noted actor Robert Vaughn. You can purchase Gold Star by clicking here!
Negri just announced that her horror-themed short film The Walk will be screening as part of June’s virtual edition of New Jersey’s Lighthouse International Film Festival!
Ted Geoghegan studied screenwriting under the tutelage of the late Carroll O’Connor. After writing numerous genre features in Europe and The United States, he made his directorial debut with the 2015 horror film We Are Still Here, then followed it up with the Native American revenge movie Mohawk (2017). Click here to purchase We Are Still Here, and click here to purchase Mohawk!
Geoghegan recently began a well-received podcast titled “This is Not a Story About…” Each episode of the program begins as the story of someone or something in the world of film that cinephiles know very well, but transforms into an expertly-researched tale about a new topic: one that can be closely-related or worlds away from where its story began. You can listen to the podcast by clicking here!
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I WISH I MADE THAT #3: CAGE COMEDIES
Victoria Negri: Hey Ted! I’m excited to chat with you for this edition of “I Wish I Made That” about films with Nic Cage. The man, the myth, the acting legend. You chose another film I’ve never seen “Valley Girl” and I picked the cult film “Vampire’s Kiss”. Two very different movies. It was crazy watching them back to back. Tell me about “Valley Girl”. What made you pick that one? I loved it, by the way!
Ted Geoghegan: Oh, I’m so glad you dug it! I picked it because it was always a film that I enjoyed as a kid, and it held up as I got older. I like that it feels very innocent and pure. And, I admit, I also picked it because it was recently remade!!!
Negri: I noticed that! Yeah, I haven’t seen the remake. But I want to. I loved that it was quite clearly an 80’s version of “Romeo and Juliet”. They really don’t shy away from that. The characters are literally standing underneath the marquee saying “Romeo and Juliet”.
Geoghegan: Yeah, the film doesn’t quite understand subtlety. But it’s sweet.
Negri: I’m all for it though. Go for it!
Geoghegan: I was drawn to that sweetness when I picked a Nic Cage movie I wish I’d made. Even though I love horror movies, I’m kind of a big softy.
Negri: Yeah he’s done such a huge range of films, especially when he was younger. I almost picked “Moonstruck” because I’m also a softy.
Geoghegan: On the other end of that spectrum, you picked “Vampire’s Kiss” – which might be one of the meaner Cage movies he’d ever made! It always rubbed me the wrong way, both as a child and an adult! Yeah, it’s the first film for this series that by “I Wish I Made That” what I really want to do is go in there, tear it up and make something that’s not so I guess repulsive in many ways.
Negri: The concept is so interesting to me though.
Geoghegan: The concept, on its surface, works for me. But the execution is so mean. Cage’s Peter Lowe is all-time uncomfortable example of a toxic dude. It’s legit hard for me to watch him in that film.
Negri: Yeah he’s awful. The way his character is written, he’s screaming at women for 90 percent of the film, and just violent.
Geoghegan: So, before I dive into the cuteness of “Valley Girl”, tell me more about how and why you want to deconstruct your title!
Negri: Yeah I mean, I want to deconstruct everything about it. I feel like this could become a big rant… But…To me what’s interesting in the concept is this person who hates himself so much that he wants to be something else, something people are afraid of to keep others away. Also, this psychosis through sexuality that’s touched on but just kind of tossed off with sexualized vampires. What’s that about? I would RATHER change it to have a woman play the leading Nic Cage role, and have her fall down this rabbit hole of hiding beneath the belief that she’s a vampire. The thing to decide is whether the character gets lost in this world (a la Joker) or if there’s light at the end of the tunnel and they realize the vampire persona was a cloak (pun intended) because of their fears of society. I think too many people watch the film like — oh Nic Cage is so crazy! Hilarious! But there’s a lot to talk about beyond his over the top performance.
Geoghegan: I totally get you. I feel like the toxicity of the role is almost completely overlooked by its fans. Gender-swapping it would be a great step in flipping the script, but the nastiness would have to be toned down, regardless of its lead’s sex.
Geoghegan: The character, as its currently written, would be reprehensible as a woman too.
Negri: Peter really is vile.
Geoghegan: I think the deeper dive that you spoke of is the first step. Asking why this character is so awful and why they choose to live this life… that’s interesting.
Negri: Exactly. What are they hiding from and why are they pushing people away?
Geoghegan: And a lot more fun, as a viewer, than watching someone in power scream at the people who work for them.
Negri: Yeah the power screaming. Not a good look. And the plot of the film doesn’t even matter as it’s written.
Geoghegan: Sexuality in the film is a huge focus, but also something that doesn’t get the attention it rightfully deserves. Showing it as both a drug and a crutch would be key to making the character more relatable.
Negri: Yeah and that’s what makes me interested in making the protagonist a woman also, exploring that through a female perspective. And giving the character some back story to aid in all of this — who is this person?
Geoghegan: So, Victoria’s version sees a real, honest-to-God woman with ample power, believing she’s been bitten by a vampire and delving into a new world to sex and power. But how do you keep that concept funny in 2020? …Or do you drop the humor?
Negri: Hmm… Yeah, keeping humor in it would be challenging but I think it’s important to have something in there for levity. Maybe another character that pulls her out of it, someone that can keep her grounded. A family member or mother character. Somebody to point out how ridiculous it is. Or, maybe she does dive into the vampire world and joins some kind of really dedicated club of people that are fun and she believes they’re actually vampires, but they’re not. I also really like “What We Do in the Shadows”, but that’s tonally such different vampire humor haha.
Geoghegan: Also a superfan, but yeah, tonally quite different.
Negri: I think it’s through another character that throws her off somehow.
Geoghegan: I think there’s a world in which the humor around this can be found, even in our current landscape. It’s kind of sad and scary, what the film’s lead goes through, but if handled properly, it could be funny. Maybe that’s what I’ve always had an issue within the film. It *could* work.
Negri: Yeah. What would you do with it to keep it funny? Or not keep, but give it humor, I should say.
Geoghegan: I feel like the film would have worked much better with its original lead. Dennis Quaid was supposed to star in it, but dropped out last-minute after getting “Innerspace”. I love Cage, but I think Quaid playing the part with less rage and more humanity would have been a huge help.
Negri: Oh! I had no idea!
Geoghegan: Quaid’s also got a sense of humility that I think the role required.
Negri: Yeah I agree, that would’ve been much more interesting to see. Maybe some subtlety.
Geoghegan: Yeah, it wasn’t originally conceived as Cage going bonkers. He brought all that, himself.
Negri: He’s like a crazy hurricane in the film.
Geoghegan: And again, big Cage fan. But when I think of the film with Dennis Quaid in the lead, it reads completely differently.
Negri: Yeah I wonder why Cage went as big and angry as he did. I wonder why he often does that in a lot of his work. He’s never not interesting, at least!
Geoghegan: I think this perfectly brings up something I wanted to address, which is “When did Cage get big and angry?” He’d always been over-the-top, but at a certain point, it was almost as though he lost the ability to play anything but crazy.
Negri: Yeah I loved some of his other over the top choices, like using different character voices, etc., that weren’t big/angry. I don’t know.
Geoghegan: I feel like it was after “Leaving Las Vegas” in ’95. He was playing an out-of-control drunk, and he won an Oscar for it. After that, I think he was just like, “Oh. This is what they want? Fine, then.”He’d done plenty of gonzo parts before then – including “Vampire” – but I feel like that Oscar changed everything.
Negri: Yeah I think it’s self-perpetuating, like, oh, this works. This is what people expect. I think you’re right.
Geoghegan: He’s forever chasing that second Oscar nod by getting sillier and sillier…
Negri: Yeah. He’s got to choose something different. Although I loved “Mandy”. So I’ve been thinking about anything that could link our films together in thinking about, okay, well what about these parts would makeCage want to play them? And they’re both people that are in worlds that aren’t their own, like people who are out of place. Maybe he’s drawn to parts like that? Although maybe now it’s money? But back in the day, these are characters out of their element.
Geoghegan: I think that’s a very fair assumption. He wants to play characters that are outsiders. And that’s very charming. If you remade “Vampire’s Kiss”, where would you put Cage in it? What outsider role could you dream up for him that isn’t the lead? I thought about that with “Valley Girl” and was amused by the idea of him playing a yuppie dad in the 1980s. I’d love to see him play against type… however hard that might be to accomplish.
Negri: Oooooo awesome question. I think the foil to the lead. Like maybe he plays the version of Alva or a love interest to the woman who is the Peter character rewritten. Maybe he’s trying to be in her world and it doesn’t work. A yuppie dad in the 80s would be amazing. Yeah, I think he’s fully embraced his outsider-I-go-bonkers persona. So tell me more about “Valley Girl”. What if anything would you change about it? How would you update it for 2020? I loved that New Wave soundtrack, by the way.
Geoghegan: Well, my thoughts regarding “Valley Girl” are peculiar because I could never remake it. They tried recently and I hear it’s not bad, but I picked this title because, as the column’s title goes, “I wish I made it.”I wish that I was of-age when the film was shot and that I could experience those moments for real – not re-imagine them.
Negri: Yeah there’s something so innocent and nostalgic about it. As we were talking about, it’s like “Romeo and Juliet”, with very little of the dark aspects of it. Just some of the friend gossip that happens. When did you first see it? And how was it re-watching in thinking about wanting to experience those moments and how that may have evolved for you over time?
Geoghegan: I first saw it shortly after it came out, but I was in grade school. Still, it resonated with me. I’d never been to California, but it seemed magical. I wanted to hang out these people. I wanted to be in their world.
Negri: Yeah it’s very cool.
Geoghegan: And as I grew up, visited California, and watched the world change, I always hung onto that sweet little slice of cinema.
Negri: Yeah it made me want to go back in time and be that person that goes to a party and then runs off with someone new, that discovery of young love in a place that feels magical. California always seemed exotic and magical — that’s where movies are made — to me growing up in Connecticut.
Geoghegan: It’s the perfect example of a film that I desperately wish I could have made, but would never try to now. It’s a time capsule. And I think the idea of making a time capsule is pretty special.
Negri: Yeah what would be a time capsule now that holds onto this feeling, like an ode to it? A modern-day “Romeo and Juliet”? Where would you set it? Still California?
Geoghegan: God help anyone who wants to make a time capsule of 2020…
Negri: I know, I was just thinking, how would you even make a movie like that today?
Geoghegan: That innocence is, in many ways, gone.
Negri: Yeah even before 2020 hit, I feel like the internet and cell phones ruined so much of what make those movies magical.
Geoghegan: The 80s were *not* an innocent time, but a lot of their storytelling techniques were.
Negri: What about the storytelling to you was innocent?
Geoghegan: The stakes are high, but they’re not scary. It can be life or death, but it somehow also feels safe. It’s daring, but… not too daring. I think it’s why so much 80’s cinema resonates with people. It feels like true escapism. And a lot of cinema these days has lost that.
Negri: Yeah it really rides a line. I really appreciate that in “Valley Girl”. Tommy adds tension in trying to break up the romance, but unlike “Romeo and Juliet”, Julie’s parents are really supportive of her and the relationship, which was so awesome to see. I had so much fun watching it.
Geoghegan: If I was to make a feel-good time capsule movie of “right now” (not 2020), I think it would need to be about little kids. Something like “Good Boys”, which I thought was sweet and hilarious.
Negri: Yeah I have to check that movie out. Kids would work, before they realize all the awful stuff going on, before they’re completely corrupted by technology and social media.
Geoghegan: People become adults too quickly now. The teens in “Valley Girl” feel like children, yet 13-year-olds in2020 are practically grown-ups.
Negri: And there’s this mystery about getting to know new people that I really like. You can’t Google people. You can’t stalk their social media accounts. It takes more time. It’s so refreshing to see that. I’m really ripping into the internet despite it bringing a lot of good.
Geoghegan: Here’s to no digital stalking… or any stalking, for that matter!
Negri: None of it!
Geoghegan: Agreed. I’m a digital addict, but I hate what it’s done to the world.
Negri: Yeah I try to lessen its hold over me. Put my phone away when watching movies. It’s why I miss watching movies in theaters, because you can’t just turn on your phone and be like, hmmm what’s happening over here. Also something I really love about “Valley Girl”, how Julie really defends Nic Cage’s character to her friends. She takes action. She’s not a passive character. None of them are, they’re all moving towards something. When she got in that car with him I was like YES!
Geoghegan: Again, I think it’s why it resonated so strongly. It’s sweet-yet-powerful. It makes you wanna cheer on its heroes… warts and all. They’re all a bit off, and that’s what makes them so good. I’d like to think that’s why Cage wanted to do it.
Negri: Yeah he still gets to be kind of a weird outsider and it works. It’s charming.
Geoghegan: This conversation feels a bit different than our past ones, and I think it’s because we’ve both dug so deep into the existing films, good or bad, to talk about why we’ve chosen them. We’ve turned into armchair critics.
Negri: I know! I was thinking that when I was ripping into “Vampire’s Kiss”. I was like, oh no. People made this movie and tried and anyone who makes a movie deserves a huge WELL DONE because it’s a feat in itself. And I feel like we could sidetrack and talk about cinema of the 80s overall in this mindset, too.
Geoghegan: I don’t think you were ripping into it as much as you were pointing out what you’d do differently, both for yourself and for the mercy of your audience. And I think that’s a fair notion for any director to have.
Negri: Appreciate that. Yeah, I always get a bit iffy when I point out what I don’t like in other filmmakers’ movies publicly because we’re all, you know, sensitive artists. And again, making movies is HARD.
Geoghegan: And kudos for choosing a film that you weren’t gushing about, as I’ve done every column. I need to be bold next time and pick something that I disagree with!
Negri: I love that you keep picking such great films. “Valley Girl” is one I’ll go back to when I need to smile.
Geoghegan: Making movies *is* hard, and I’m sure that making a movie with someone as eclectic and incredible as Nic Cage is a journey not soon forgotten.
Negri: I know! I wonder how the director worked with him and what that was like on that film. Interesting, to say the least.
Geoghegan: My hat is off to anyone who takes that plunge! And you’re very welcome! You’re seeing deep into my psyche!
Negri: And you, mine! I’m like – let me pick the films about the strange outsiders.
Geoghegan: I always appreciate your insight, and I love the ideas that you’ve got bouncing around inside your head. While you’ll never be able to travel back to 1989 and right all of the wrongs in “Vampire’s Kiss”, I have faith that you’ll be able to give the world something even more amazing in the future!
Negri: I hope so! And thank you! I want to see a Ted version of “Valley Girl”, not a remake, but something similar.
Geoghegan: Tell you what… Let’s add vampires and we can both make it.
Negri: Hell yeah.
Geoghegan: I suppose our time has come, but it’s always a joy talking to you – and thank you again for the spirited chat. I can’t wait to get nerdy with you again.
Negri: Yes, until next time! Such a pleasure! Can’t wait for the next one!
Click here to purchase Valley Girl!