USA , 1995
Review by Jenny Jediny
Posted on 03 July 2006
Source Paramount DVD
Categories Chick Flicks
So you’re probably going, ‘Is this like a Noxzema commercial or what?’ But seriously, I actually have a way normal life for a teenage girl.
As if. While the lives of the nouveau riche children of Beverly Hills are hardly ordinary, they are scrupulously observed in teen queen auteur Amy Heckerling’s 1995 cult classic. Abandoning the semi-angst attitude found in numerous John Hughes films of the 80’s (primarily The Breakfast Club) Clueless is as luminous and colorful as its lead character Cher’s designer wardrobe, yet outfitted with an incredibly witty script. With phrases that would enter the cultural lexicon, the script nearly kept the film from production as studios initially refused to distribute it, finding it far too “wordy,” and lacking the nudity and other titillating elements typically sold to the 18-and-under demographic. More than ten years later, the solid script along with Alicia Silverstone’s engrossing performance as Cher Horowitz that maintains its seminal chick flick status.
Cher’s voice-over heightens the film’s female perspective, providing insight to her changing attitude via her inner monologue. Although intelligent, Cher coasts on charm to manipulate others; loosely based on the novel Emma, Cher emulates Jane Austen’s title character in her passion for an endlessly popular female pastime — the makeover. Literally reshaping others’ lives, from color highlights to raising their popularity status, Cher constantly molds others in her own image, yet neglects to see her own faults or weaknesses. Eventually she comes to terms with her oblivious state and strives to be selfless (for indeed, “’tis a far, far better thing doing stuff for other people”).
Released the same year as Larry Clark’s controversial Kids, a film centered on gritty and “realistic” New York City teenagers, Clueless avoids any remotely unpleasant teenage moments. Cyclical themes in the teen flick, from raunchy to the romantic comedy are often comprised of crude sexual humor, perhaps a pregnancy scare, and certainly taunting and humiliations galore. Refreshingly, the worst peer pressure in Clueless may be proper color coordination. While Heckerling’s Fast Times At Ridgemont High adhered to many of the cliché plots of the teen comedy, Clueless wholly rejects them in favor of verbal quips and a blatantly optimistic attitude.
This 180-degree spin from formulaic (albeit the excellent use of the valley girl stereotype) may ultimately figure in the film’s chick flick reputation. Aside from its female protagonist, Clueless has an enormously positive attitude toward women, particularly teen girls. Cher and her friends radiate healthy self-confidence, may find shopping cathartic but also put effort into maintaining grades and familial relationships, and are more interested in developing their vernacular than in alcohol or drugs (when Tai seeks “herbal refreshment”, Cher and Dionne assume she means tea). Although there is a romantic subplot, boys do not cloud the girls’ minds, as Cher deems high school boys unworthy and asserts her virginity, arguing that if she is picky over shoes, men are certainly deserving of as much criticism and debate. Even the major romantic entanglement for Cher (her non-blood-related step brother Josh) avoids saccharine infatuation as the script utilizes the best aspect of the Hollywood screwball genre — biting comebacks and heated verbal sparring.
Certainly Clueless envelops itself in a bubble, namely Beverly Hills and the lifestyle associated with it. Highly contained, the location works perfectly in synch with its teen subjects, as unaware self-absorption is often a symptom of adolescence. One of the opening songs in the film is The Muffs’ “Kids In America,” which cleverly reminds us of not only our location, but also Cher’s isolated mindset. These are clearly the children of America, or at least the perceived vision of it, with their walk-in revolving closets and shiny Audis (imagine the anthropological study Margaret Mead could have had with this level of observation). The enjoyment of Clueless comes from its postmodern attitude; skilled in the realm of the teen film, Heckerling is aware of the trappings of the teen comedy and manipulates them. Cher may act the part of the dumb blonde, but is clearly in on the joke, enabling her to both embrace a makeover in global concern while maintaining an interest in the superficial, namely clothing and other material objects. Although it isn’t likely to inspire selfless acts, its tongue in cheek humor has made Clueless a cult film for brains and blonds alike.
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