Before I get into a review that will probably garner negative feedback, I would like to divert any potential reader’s attention over to my heavily scrutinized write-up of the Best Picture winning American Beauty. In said review, I talk about how I believe American Beauty asks overly-simple questions and takes itself far too seriously. I also mention, although briefly, my feelings on Amy Heckerling’s cultural landmark of a movie, Clueless.
Go ahead and scroll down to the bottom of the page and read the comments left on the review. There is one in particular left by a user called “SomeDude”. He disagrees with my assessment of American Beauty, and in doing so says some strangely true things about me. That is not why the comment stands out though…keep reading.
At the bottom of his comment he writes “how in the Hell is "Clueless" a fucking masterpiece?! It's just another Beverly-Hills-teenage-crap movie.” He then follows his superior logic with “I actually only watched the trailer but there you have it”. He, like so many others, judged a book by its cover. And though Clueless does have a pretty shallow cover, it is not exactly an easy read. The film is very loosely based on Jane Austen’s novel, "Emma" and features some of the most ironically twisted performances in teen cinema. If you really think it is a “teenage-crap movie”, you have obviously never seen it. Because that is the exact type of movie that Heckerling is parodying.
The film has an ensemble cast which features some young faces who went on to become heavy hitters. Paul Rudd, Brittany Murphey and maybe Donald Faison are probably the modern day anchors of the cast, but the show in Clueless is continuously stolen by Alicia Silverstone’s immaculately irritating performance as Cher. This is a character that went on to become a cultural milestone and helped put a physical embodiment to the greatly exaggerated stereotype stamped on rich girls from The Hills.
Cher is not a stupid character, but she is very ignorant to some normal social standards. Her father is a hot shot lawyer and she has been living a life of luxury since birth. She has a computer in her closet that only has one function; it helps her decide what to wear to school that day. I mean, how can anybody expect her to understand the common man? Rather than creating an empathetic character for herself, Silverstone gives depth to Cher. She may not know it right away, but there is a smart girl hiding under the expensive clothes. Her classic lines include ironically delivered gems like (in reference to her best friend) “She's my friend because we both know what it's like for people to be jealous of us.” Is that conceited of Cher? Or is that really the genuine reason why they are friends?
That is just one example of the sarcastic and witty nature in which Clueless was written. Heck, Heckerling basically invented a new ebonic-esque teeny language that hadn’t been heard since Valley Girl (1983). I am the third child of four in my family and the oldest boy. That means I have two older sisters. Let me tell you, I heard my fair share of “as if” and “whatever” complete with the obnoxious hand motion. The language from this movie took over the world. And why not? It had to have been predictable that younger girls would not see the film as “poking fun”. Did Heckerling care? Maybe she did about as much as Tina Fey did when she wrote Mean Girls (2004) – whether it be a lot or a little.
I am fully aware that Clueless has flaws. I would never try to claim that it is a perfect movie. But unlike some other “teenage-crap movies”, this movie was written by a smart woman who knows how to create interesting characters. Heckerling’s other hit is Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I believe Clueless is a better movie because it has a little more to say about life, love and growing up. The performances in the film are camp-classic, the soundtrack is phenomenal and the dated references to pop culture cement the film in a time capsule for an entire decade’s worth of people. The best comparison I can think of would be to say that Clueless is to the 90s what The Breakfast Club is to the 80s. It may not actually define the generation, but the people of those respective generations will never deny the influence that a movie like this had on their vocabulary, fashion choices and behavior.
*Note* Entertainment Weekly magazine’s October 19th issue just did a Clueless reunion story that offers some interesting films perspectives from the cast and director. I recommend reading it.