Over the years there have been many attempts to translate classic literature to the screen. Some try to remain true to the novel while others strive to modernize the classics. Usually, the later is a recipe for disaster but there is one film that is a shining example that this is possible. Loosely based on Jane Austen's Emma, Clueless is a film filled with energy and plain old fun. Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) is a girl born to privilege; her father Mel (Dan Hedaya) is a cut throat high price lawyer with several ex-wives behind him. In Cher he has managed his greatest success; she is bright, pretty and outgoing. Cher’s best friend is Dionne (Stacey Dash) have a lot in common, after all they where both named after "named after great singers of the past that now do infomercials". Superficially both girls are typical of the Southern California youth, obsessed with fashion, concerned with the really important issues like who is dating whom and now that they are finally sixteen, driving. Such is life in Beverly Hills where the closet thing to a gang fight would occur if two girls showed up to home room in the same outfit. Cher tends to coordinate her clothing each morning with the help of a computer program so there is little chance of this dreadful fate happening to her. Cher winds up with a couple of bad grades and decides that the teachers that gave them are just lonely and if she got them together their lives and hence her grades would improve. So Cher sets her sights on uniting Mr. Hall (Wallace Shawn) and Miss Geist (Twink Caplan) for the betterment of all involved. There is also another project that Cher takes on; Tai (Brittany Murphy) is a recent transfer student that comes across as a pot head skater girl. Cher and Dionne do what they where born to do, give Tai a makeover and teacher the ways of Beverly Hills. Cher does not have a regular boyfriend; life seems to always be against her on the subject of romance. The boy she has her eye on doesn’t seem especially interested in any girl, except maybe to go shopping with. The only other male in her life is her step brother Josh (Paul Rudd) a hold over from one of dad’s previous marriage. In this world a chart of family relationships would look something like a drawing from MC Escher.
This film works on an amazing number of levels. First of all it is a funny comedy, the humor is subtle at times but Clueless is a humorous look at our infatuation of those who live a privileged, up-scale life. The characters are extremely well developed, especially Cher. She is a girl without a mean bone in her body, optimistic of outlook and genuinely caring of others. In one scene she explains why she is still a virgin demonstrating that for her ditsy nature she is morally centered. As a father of a young woman I appreciated the fact that Cher’s peers willingly accepted her choices. Even the stoner character Tai has a touch of innocence to her personality. She is just looking to fit in and is willing to completely allow herself to be reinvented to achieve this goal. While many teen targeted flicks overly sexualize teen life this film remains fit for most of the family, an accomplishment in itself. For once there is a gentle comedy that is not dependant on gross, low brow jokes and cheap laughs to get by. The film does not take itself too seriously it presents as entertainment and succeeds nicely with that task.
This film certainly is responsible for launching a couple of A-List careers most notably Alicia Silverstone. She was a natural for this role, as bright and energetic as the character she portrays. While many blonde jokes can be made about Cher she is a clique oriented high school girl that is not mean as Hollywood typically presents them. Silverstone is able to play such a kind hearted girl without going too far over the top, becoming a parody instead of an interesting presentation. She has a natural sense of comic timing that never missing the chance to make the audience laugh, not at her but with her. Another star that really came to the public attention with this film is Brittany Murphy. Coming from television, particularly a little show called The Torkelsons (Almost Home), Murphy has demonstrated that her talent ranges from romantic comedies to serious dramas and even thrillers. Here she embodies Tai, the lost soul seeking for acceptance. One of Cher’s friends is played by the constantly working character actress Elisa Donovan. She offers a counterpoint to Cher being much more obsessed with the trivial and vain aspects of life.
This film was written and directed by Amy Heckerling who came to fame with her other teen classic, ‘Fast Times at Ridgemount High’. Like that film this one takes an off beat look at teen life with amusing results. Heckerling has a wonderful gift for this type of film. She writes characters that are believable; we all have known people like this in our lives. They are also sympathetic; the audience is actually pulled in emotionally to her films, caring about what happens next. As a director she paces this film perfectly. There is never a dull moment, one scene slides naturally into the next allowing the story to unfold gracefully.
Paramount has joined the trend set by other studios with re-releasing popular films as specialized editions. They did a great job here. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is very well done. The color balance is near perfect and there was not a speck or artifact to be found. The Dolby 5.1 audio was robust, giving a full spectrum performance. The rear speakers come alive not only with ambience but also to feature the upbeat sound track. The extras really shine here, most are high school oriented. The Class of ’95 takes a look at how the careers of the actors have risen over the last ten years. Fashion 101 provides a glimpse behind the scenes at how the imaginative, fun fashions for the film where developed. Language Arts goes over the now famous slang of the film, get to know what a ‘Betty’ is or the proper use of the word, ‘Whatever’. If you want to play a little party game with credit cards as shown in the film there is a tutorial on the rules for ‘Suck and Blow’. We’re History gives the cast a chance to reminisce about the making of this film that greatly affected their careers. In all this is a fun film, one that stands the test of time and will entertain you through many viewings.