Clueless (1995) (PG-13)

On its surface level, it doesn't require much thought to enjoy "Clueless" which seems like a dumb-rich girl movie. Essentially, it's "first world problems" in a cinematic setting; but what Amy Heckerling's movie does is give us an example of those who might not have appeared on film before. We got the pretty princess in "The Breakfast Club"; but never a whole movie devoted to rich socialites that wasn't a complete and utterly ridiculous satire on that class. "Clueless" does have its commentary, but it may not be what you expect. Teenagers in film up to the 90s were mostly the underprivileged or somehow abused, living off the angst and emotion of adolescence. With "Clueless" we get a shift towards, dare I say it, realism in that now every facet of highschool was now represented. Now don't get me wrong, the film isn't some renaissance in film making, but it is much smarter than you would assume.
Based on Jane Austen's novel Emma, "Clueless" transports the match-maker tome to modern day highschool. The real star here is Heckerling's script which dazzles with memorable one-liners and zingers: "You're a virgin who can't drive".
Cher (Alicia Silverstone) is a girl who's just trying to make it through highschool. She is the daughter of a very effective lawyer Mel Horowitz (Dan Hedaya) and she seems to have all the money in the world. Her house, her car, her friends, they all glitter and some of them are actual gold.
Her best friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) and Dionne's boyfriend Murray (Donald Faison) round out some of the other stereotypes in highschool. Cher likes to file people away in categories, and she often enlightens the audience to these thoughts. Her voice-over narration is one of the movie's more enjoyable aspects.
Ah, but highschool is complicated, particularly when everyone is falling in love. When Cher's ex-step-brother (it's complicated) Josh (Paul Rudd) comes back into town for a few weeks away from college, Cher finds that she begins competing with him and vying for his approval, even though she knows she's ridiculous. Perhaps she just doesn't want to be superficial, or at least, thought of as superficial.
Cher spends her time setting up her teachers with each other so that they will be happier and she can get a better grade in debate...illogical, but clever. Living the high-life as the most popular girl in highschool, her world is turned a little when a new face emerges.
Tai (Brittany Murhpy) enters into the picture as the new girl on campus. She's not exactly rich-snob material but Cher sees an opportunity to use her social stature to help a sister out. She goes make-up and lipstick crazy and soon Tai looks completely different in the Sandra Bullock mode that these things can take. But Cher goes about turning her into a bona fide snob, subtly (and not so) pulling Tai this way and that, telling her who to pursue and who to not date, etc.
It all seems to be going well until Cher's own love life comes into question. That is something not so easily fixed.
"Clueless" is a movie that seems to get better with every new viewing. The first thing you notice is Alicia Silverstone's heartfelt-meets-ditzy performance that has since landed her in pop culture's mind. This movie is still as popular as it ever was, inspiring pop stars today and certainly paving the way for movies like "Mean Girls".
What I love about it is how it balances drama so easily with its comedy that you don't recognize it as an intelligent movie until near the end. And, thank the heavens, it never loses its tone. Never once does it present us a facade, these are real people and though they change a great deal, their essence remains in tact.
"Clueless" exemplifies great movie making by being hyper-aware of itself. Tongue-in-cheek remarks, pop culture references ("He's a Baldwin"), and the most off-kilter sense of humor ("Oh, Snickers!") punctuates the entirety of the movie.
It's the kind of movie that you wish could be made today so you could witness it first-hand. I'm surprised at myself, but "Clueless" tip-toes so many lines so well, I can't think of it as anything but sheer perfection.

Score: ★★★★

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