Is this the most 90s movie ever? If not, it must certainly crack the top 10, for though it is based on a novel written 180 years earlier, everything about Clueless, from the slang, the opinions and most vehemently the fashions positively scream 1990s. Upon release, this may have been topical and timely, but now it severely dates the film, and is mostly comical. Although saying that, there is a chance that it may have been funny at the time (I can’t remember, I was 8 in 1995), as I can’t imagine any time period in which a two-piece yellow plaid suit jacket and skirt were ever in fashion, even amongst teenage girls.
Clueless sees Cher (Alicia Silverstone) as one of the most popular girls in her high school, who seems to have no problems of her own so sets about fixing those of everyone around her, focusing primarily on matchmaking her friends. When new girl Tai (Brittany Murphy) arrives, Cher sees the uncoordinated outcast as a project, and decides to transform Tai into a clone of herself. Meanwhile, Cher’ philosophical environmentalist step-brother Josh (Paul Rudd, effortlessly likable) is helping out Cher’s widowed father (Dan Hedaya) at his law firm.
It’s becoming almost a tradition for me to be reviewing films based on famous literature without ever really knowing much about the source material, and this is no exception, for I’m still yet to read any of Jane Austen’s work, including Emma. That being said, apparently it is only a loose adaptation (I can’t imagine Austen pre-empting Cher’s computerised wardrobe selector), so not having read Emma shouldn’t have affected my viewing anyway, especially seeing as it took so long for people to realise the connection when the film came out anyway.
Silverstone is a delight in this film, playing someone who could so easily be almost detestable, living a life of luxury she’s done nothing to deserve but still feeling the need to whine incessantly in a piercing, nasally tone, yet in Silverstone’s hands you can not only empathise, but occasionally pity her poor-little-rish-girl ways. The film is led by her narration, and contains some of the least self-aware yet funniest lines of the film: “Getting off the freeway makes you realise how important love is.” For Cher is just that kind of person, oblivious. As an 18-year old she assumes she knows everything about everything, there is no problem she cannot solve and no situation that cannot be argued out of, but her journey through this film causes her to re-evaluate her opinions of not only herself, but her friends and family too.
The slang and colloquialisms are brilliant too. Good looking guys are ‘Baldwins’, women are ‘Bettys’ and Cher’s house, built in 1972, is somehow deemed ‘classic.’ Every offhand comment or snide remark is so topical that I found the film to be educational by googling what they said – apparently there was a guy called Paulie Shore who made terrible films, and Mark Wahlberg used to be in a band. Who knew?
I can’t help thinking there’s something missing from Clueless. Although it has the morals and meanings of traditional rom-coms, and has enough rom and com to keep most people entertained, including me, I’m left empty and wanting more. It’s a perfectly serviceable slice of light entertainment, but there are better examples, both prior and since, so I’m not entirely sure why it’s on the 1001 List. It’s one of the few films that I genuinely challenge it’s presence – as far as I can tell it’s of no significant cultural importance, isn’t phenomenally good and didn’t win any awards, generally the three criteria for a List position. As mentioned, the acting is good, the story and characters are engaging and the soundtrack is phenomenal, but there’s an endless number of films you could say that about that aren’t present.
As modern day high school set classic adaptations go, I still prefer 10 Things I Hate About You, If only for the one-two combo of Joseph ‘Joggle’ Gordon-Levitt and Heath Ledger, along with the adults featuring Alison Janney, Daryl Mitchell and Larry Miller (although Clueless does have Wallace Shawn, which goes a long way too). Clueless isn’t bad, and at times it’s funny, poignant and captivating, but afterwards I didn’t feel like my life had been improved in any way, so make of that what you will.
Choose film 6/10