As part of #52FilmsByWomen I decided to revisit 90’s teen classic Clueless. Written and directed by Amy Heckerling, who is also behind 80’s hit Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982) and Look Who’s Talking (1989), Clueless is based on Jane Austen’s novel Emma.
Released at the same time as Disney’s Pocahontas and Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, the film became a sleeper hit and is now regarded a cult classic. Clueless tells the story of Beverly Hills high-schooler Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) as she navigates her privileged life, taking new student Tia (Brittany Murphy) under her wing.
Clueless is best remembered for its hilariously quotable dialogue, with the constant pop culture references being just as funny today as they were two decades ago. Heckerling’s script is full of soft satire, which pokes fun at the west coast and high school lifestyle in the way that a loving friend would.
The cast is full of familiar faces who were at the time relative unknowns – perhaps the most prolific being the even more baby-faced than usual Paul Rudd – and there is a real sense of comradery that runs throughout the film.
The untimely death of Brittany Murphy in 2009 tinges the film with sadness, with her adorable turn as Tia being one of the main highlights. Alicia Silverstone and Stacey Dash are brilliant as Cher and best friend Dionne, and it is in their friendship that Clueless’ greatest strength lies.
In any other teen movie, Cher and Dionne would be the stereotypical ‘mean girls’. Heckerling actively inverts this expectation by making them likable. The characters are realistic within the hyper-realistic and slightly satirical world due to the fact that the dynamics between them reflect how teenagers really interact with each other – there aren’t heroes and villains like there are the movies.
Heckerling acknowledges this and there aren’t really any straight out ‘villains’ in Clueless. Sure, Amber (Elisa Donovan) and Elton (Jeremy Sisto) act negatively at points, but they are not straight out bad guys. It’s rare to see this in a teen movie, even today, and it one of the reasons Clueless has such an enduring legacies.
Another beloved aspect of Clueless is the fashion, with costume designer Mona May firmly shaking off the muted grunge style of the early 90’s to embrace something much brighter and adventurous. It is a credit to May that the costumes don’t look anywhere near as dated as they should – in fact, some of them look positively modern.
Clueless is timeless for many reasons, but the biggest is its huge heart. A perfect example of how female-centric comedies can be funny without making them all about men and bitchiness, it was also, in many ways, way ahead of its time.
Here are my top five quotes from Clueless…
“Dionne and I were both named after famous singers of the past, who now do infomercials.”
“That’s Ren and Stimpy. They’re way existential.”
“You’re a virgin who can’t drive.”
“Is Josh giving you shit because he’s going through his post-adolescent idealistic phase?”
“If I’m too good for him, then how come I’m not with him?”
What are your favourite lines from Clueless? Let me know in the comments section!