Title: CluelessDirector: Amy Heckerling
Starring: Alica Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd, Donald Faison, Elisa Donovan, Breckin Meyer, Jeremy Sisto, Dan Hedaya, Wallace Shawn, Twink Caplan, Justin Walker
Plot: Cher (Silverstone) is a wealthy, popular and superficial high-school student in Beverly Hills who along with her best friend Dionne hold court over the school. However when she discovers a new found happiness in doing good deeds for others, she decides to take the unhip new girl Tai (Murphy) under her wing.
Review: Another modernised reworking of a classic piece of fiction an honour while largely reserved for Shakespeare plays has also worked memorably for other classics as memorably seen with “Les Liaison Dangereuses” which became the wonderful “Cruel Intentions”. Here though it’s the turn of Jane Austen’s 18th century matchmaker “Emma” which director Amy Heckerling used as the basis for her script when Paramount asked her to write a film for teenagers and having read it as a teenager decided to create this modernised version of the classic novel.
While on the surface it might seem like any other disposable teen comedy of the 90’s there is something about this film which has meant that fifteen+ years later I still find myself as obsessed with it as I was back when I first saw it in the late 90’s and writing that now, boy does that make me feel old. Still while the fashions, soundtrack selection and pretty much every aspect of this film might reek of the era there is something still kind of timeless about this film as it’s world of wealthy high school students in Beverly Hills often feels like it’s part of its own fantastical little world than any kind of representation of a realistic high school. So hence students are shown constantly talking on brick sized mobile phones or bandaged from whatever plastic surgery they’ve just undergone, while teachers make minimal efforts to try and teach them while clearly knowing that their money will carry them much further than their education.
Despite her status as Queen Bee, Cher is surprisingly not the bitch you’d expect her to be as she bumbles her way through life with a generally good natured attitude. At the same time while she clearly sees certain student groups as being below her own, she just lets them be rather than launching any kind of spiteful attack on them, clearly believing that everyone has their place and that’s usually beneath her own group. In a way its only further reinforced by her bringing Tai into her social group and giving her a makeover as part of her efforts to mould her in her own image rather than just accept her for her skater / grunge styling.
The plot itself is pretty lightweight but boosted by natural comedy and the situations which Cher finds herself being drawn into as she plays matchmaker and embarks on her on quest to find the right guy which includes a failed hook up with the too hip for school Christian whose lack of interest in her is implied (but never confirmed) is down to him being gay in a surprisingly forward thinking moment especially for a film from this period. On the whole its quick pacing means that it never overstays its welcome even though Cher and Dionne valley girl slack heavy dialogue could ohh so easily have made this a grating experience and the end while once in play is predictable it never feels like the film is trying to force anything.
True the film is unquestionably 90’s in its styling and appearance, which perhaps for myself growing up in the 90’s means that it carries for myself a lot of nostalgic gloss, especially from having watched and enjoyed it back then, so its comforting to see it surprisingly as one of the few films which still stands up and one which has arguable got better as its original audience return to it as older viewers uncovering the wealth of subtle jokes which are weaved into the film. It’s only the more of a shame that this would be the high water mark for director Heckerling’s career which also included the equally legendry 80’s school flick “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” with her follow up and possible attempt to direct a defining high school comedy in every decade falling flat with 2000’s “Loser” which in many ways felt like an attempt to cash in on the success of “American Pie” which is arguably the closest challenger to “Clueless” even if it lacked the subtlety of Heckerling’s film.
At the same time one of the main strength’s here is in its casting with perhaps none of the cast outside of Alicia Silverstone being especially well known and making it all the more amusing to see how many first appearances which can be clocked here with perhaps only Greg Araki’s “Nowhere” coming this close to its soothslayer esq casting. Silverstone owns the part of Cher, while Stacey Dash provides the perfect support for her to bounce dialogue off making sader that she never really had another role which came close to matching this one though she would be one of the few members of the cast who reprised their role for the spin off TV Series. The most sad of all is off course Britney Murphy who whenever I see her especially in iconic roles like this and “Sin City” it just makes me wish that I had appreciated her all the more when she was alive as her performance here really hinted at some of the untapped potential she ultimately never got to show off outside of a few sporadic roles.
While this certainly might not be the deepest of films, especially as it wears its materialism proudly on its sleeve, this Beverly Hills high school fantasy has enough heart to carry it though and more than enough laughs to make it easy to understand why its become such a cult film all these years later.