The ’90s were the golden years for dopey high school movies like “She’s All That,” “Can’t Hardly Wait,” and “Bring It On” always featuring predictable plotlines of a jock and nerd overcoming the odds and falling in love. However, one of the few teen movies that has stood the test of time is “Clueless.” “Clueless” not only has the feel-good ending, makeover montage, upbeat and distinctly ’90s soundtrack, and eye candy element of your typical teen movie, but also incorporates bitingly clever, satirical dialogue, half of which went completely over my head when I saw it at age eight or so (throwback: I rented the VHS from a now defunct local video store):
Amber: Ms. Stoeger, my plastic surgeon doesn’t want me doing any activity where balls fly at my nose.
Dionne: Well, there goes your social life.
Tai: I could really use some sort of herbal refreshment.
Dionne: Oh, well we do lunch in ten minutes. We don’t have any tea, but we have Coke and stuff.
Tai: No shit. You guys got Coke here?
Dionne: Well, yeah.
Cher: Yeah, this is America.
“Clueless” opens with a shot of the spoiled L.A. lifestyle of protagonist Cher Horowitz as her voiceover demands, “Okay, so you’re probably going, ‘Is this like a Noxzema commercial or what?’” This opening scene encapsulates the appeal of “Clueless” it’s silly and superficial, but knowingly so. The characters are totally endearing – Cher and Dionne, the queens of their high school who dress to the nines in plaid, knee socks and platforms; Tai, the ‘clueless’ gum-smacking girl they make over; and the always fantastic Wallace Shawn as the hapless Mr. Hall who woos the hilarious Ms. Geist. A young Paul Rudd is Cher’s cute ex-step-brother, whose charm almost overrides the creepiness of an ex-step-sibling couple. Their MTV-addled-teen-versus-pretentious-college-student banter produces such gems as, “Ren and Stimpy. They’re way existential.”
While 1995 may not seem that long ago, “Clueless” is a throwback in the best way. From the ridiculous lingo probably not spoken outside of the “Clueless” world (for Cher and her friends, for example, a person can be classified as a “Monet” [a girl who looks better from far away], a “Betty” [a hot girl], a “Baldwin” [a hot guy]) to the Valley girl “whatever” and “as if,” “Clueless” is a perfect time capsule of ’90s culture. Grunge, plaid, Nirvana, skateboarding, huge cell phones, platform shoes, ’90s MTV all the trends are represented and invoke nostalgia for a more innocent and exuberant decade.
“Clueless,” of course, borrows its plot from another romantic comedy classic Jane Austen’s “Emma.” Director Amy Heckerling perfectly translates the story to Beverly Hills, and you’ve got to admit some of Austen’s heroines are a little ditzy and obsessed with social cliques. While “Clueless” may seem as vapid and empty as the L.A. malls Cher frequents, it’s just as clever, satirical and tongue in cheek as Austen. Cher may know Mel Gibson better than Shakespeare, but her heart is in the right place, as exhibited by another priceless exchange
Heather: It’s just like Hamlet said, “To thine own self be true.”
Cher: Hamlet didn’t say that.
Heather: I think I remember Hamlet accurately.
Cher: Well, I remember Mel Gibson accurately, and he didn’t say that. That Polonius guy did.
“Clueless” ultimately has a sweet message about staying true to yourself in the treacherous world of high school, and definitely holds up on repeated viewings, where each time you’ll notice a hilarious line you previously missed (or didn’t understand) when you were at the “virgin-who-can’t-drive age” (way harsh, Tai). While I probably don’t have to defend “Clueless” to most of my peers, maybe I can convince some “clueless” Wesfest parents of the movie’s true value.