Amy Heckerling’s satirical Clueless manages to hold up some 23 years after it’s theatrical release. Yeah, the film is pretty dated given the technology but it doesn’t matter.
We are introduced to Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) as a montage of scenes play out to The Muff’s “Kids in America.” The stereotypical Valley Girl is one of the most popular girls in school, no doubt helped by her litigator father, Mel (Dan Hedaya). She is also pretty spoiled given her family’s wealth. Her best friend, Dionne Davenport (Stacey Dash), is dating Murray (Donald Faison). While Cher could probably have anything that she wants in the world, her former step-brother, Josh Lucas (Paul Rudd) is idealistic and thinks she can do so much better. Deep down, Josh cares about Cher. The two of them might continually tease each other but they care. I don’t know if we can call it a trope yet but Cher’s romantic feelings for her former step-brother pre-dated Flower by over 20 years.
The typical person would give back in the form of community service. Cher is not the typical person. Instead, Cher’s idea of giving back to the world comes in the form of giving new student Tai Fraiser (Brittany Murphy) a makeover. The idea comes to her during PE, when many students are boycotting tennis for one reason or another. If you need a reminder, Clueless pre-dates She’s All That by four years. The makeover works a bit too well since Tai is soon more popular.
The makeover was preceded by Cher matching up teachers Mr. Hall (Wallace Shawn) and Miss Geist (Twink Caplan) with each other. She did so while negotiating her report card. If this doesn’t say how spoiled she is, I don’t know what does.
The Haitian monologue is funny and brilliant. Most of this is in part due to Silverstone’s scene work. I love that Hecklerling instructed cinematographer Bill Pope to keep filming. Cher is a teenage woman who comes of age by the end of the film.
The biggest thing about the film aside from the lingo is the fashion. It plays a role throughout the entire film starting from the moment we’re introduced to Cher. As unbelievable as it may be, the film’s costume budget was a modest $200,000. We’re talking some 63 outfits according to Jen Chaney’s book, As If! This is all because of the look that costume designer Mona May thought they should have.
Alicia Silverstone had only been in a few things, including some notable music video performances. The actress delivered one of the best performances in the 1990s as iconic teenager Cher Horowitz. The film put Silverstone on the path to stardom only to be see her career hit a pit stop with 1997’s Batman & Robin.
Amy Heckerling’s smartly written screenplay, which she also directed, updates Jane Austen’s Emma while satirizing life in Beverly Hills. Not only this but the film’s slang makes the film one of those once-in-a-generation comedies. Phrases like “As if!” or “Whatever” entered the cultural lexicon following the success of the film.
There may never be another Clueless but writer-director Amy Heckerling gave us a gem for the ages.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Amy Hecklerling
CAST: Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Stacey Sash, Brittany Murphy, Dan Hedaya, Jeremy Sisto, Breckin Meyer, Justin Walker, Wallace Shawn, Twink Caplan, Julie Brown, Donald Faison