Valerie Flake is constantly asked about her rather strange last name. She makes up stories about her background, as she answers. After all, she is a vulnerable young woman who doesn't want to get too close to people when we first meet her. Valerie has gone through a hard period in her life after the tragedy of her husband's horrible death, something she feels guilty for indirectly having caused it.
This young woman is no dummy. As a matter of fact, besides being a painter on her own right, Valerie knows a lot about art because not only did she study it, but her work has taken her to positions in which her knowledge was much appreciated. When we are introduced to her, she is working as a cashier at a large Los Angeles supermarket. Her immediate boss knows he has an excellent worker, a bit more mature and responsible than some of the others. When he offers her a promotion, she declines. Valerie Flake doesn't want any more responsibilities at the moment.
Her married sister comes by to confront her with a litany of complaints because she feels Valerie is falling into despair. She also tells her about the upcoming anniversary of her former in-laws in Palm Springs. We watch as she heads toward that desert community to be part of the celebrations. In getting there, Valerie had stopped at a local supermarket to make a purchase where the sole cashier is having trouble ringing another customer's purchase. The manager of that store, Tim Darnell, likes what he sees.
At the in-laws, things are not as strained as one could have expected. The older Flakes have dealt with their son's death in a positive manner, whereas Valerie still is bitter and angry at having caused her husband's death. Both Douglas and Irene Flake are told by Valerie about what really happened with their son as she comes clean. Valerie, who has been seeing Tim Darnell, is visited by Douglas who tells her how wrong she has been for carrying all that burden bottled up inside her.
At the end, we watch as Valerie heads back to Los Angeles in her yellow VW van. She evidently has come to grips with herself and what she wants to do with her own life.
This beautiful film was given a great treatment by its fine director, John Putch. He clearly deserves praise for having the courage to bring an adult, and human story to the screen. Nothing is sugar-coated in the excellent screen play Robert Tilem wrote. Mr. Putch shows great sensibility for the material in this independent film that unfortunately didn't make it to a wider distribution and now is surfacing on cable.
Susan Traylor is the whole reason for watching the film. This actress, who is not exactly a Hollywood beauty, is perfect as this confused and angry young woman. Her Valerie is real and we sense it from the start. Ms. Traylor never makes a wrong gesture, or a wrong move, giving the director the complexity in her character he, and Mr. Tilen, had in mind. Ms. Traylor is a wonderful presence in the film.
Jay Witherspoon has some good moments as Tim Darnell, the young man who likes Valerie. Christine Pickles, who plays Tim's mother, is another surprise. She thinks she knows what Valerie is looking for, and how wrong she really is! Peter Michael Goetz, an actor who should be seen more often, and Rosemary Forsyth, a great actress, play the parents of Valerie's late husband. Ann Gillespie and Terrence Howard are seen in small roles.
It's a shame "Valerie Flake" was not seen by more people. We consider ourselves lucky to have watched this excellent film that shows human emotions that are real. Special praise must go to Mr. Putch and his creative partners, especially the cinematographer, Mark Putnam, and the composers of the film score, Alesander Baker and Clair Marlo.
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