Movie of the Week! "Clueless" Review

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Movie of the Week! "Clueless" Review

Rating: PG-13 (some teen use of alcohol and drugs and sex-related dialogue)
Length: 97 minutes
Release Date: July 19, 1995
Directed by:Amy Heckerling
Genre: Comedy/Romance

What's a rich, blonde, and beautiful girl to do when her family stops taking her seriously? In "Clueless," she proves to the world that beauty and brains can go hand in hand. As frivolous as it is, this movie manages to elicit laughs and give girls a boost with the story of Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone, "Batman & Robin") becoming a force to be reckoned with. It's also seriously funny without going overboard, a triumph for any comedy aimed at a younger audience.

It's not what you'd expect from an empowering film. The heroine's introduced in a short, skin-tight dress and ultra-glossy lips. Appearance takes top priority, whether the issue at hand is her house, her car, her friends, or herself. She's consumed with consumerism and trendy style, a stereotype of America's typical '90s wealthy teen girl. As ridiculous as it's made out to seem, this is Cher's world. It's a sharp contrast to the seedy world her father (Dan Hedaya, "The Addams Family") operates his business in or the one her stepbrother, Josh (Paul Rudd, "I Love You, Man"), hails from. Intellectual and involved in a number of causes, Josh is the quintessential '90s college kid. Writer and director Amy Heckerling was able to tune into the era's teen crowd just as effectively as she did with an earlier directorial success, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," although "Clueless" has a starkly different take on the story and characters.

Cher's story is considerably different, because she's not a heartless, brainless bimbo who only cares about money and boys. She is kind, she loves her friends, and she tries hard to make the world a better place. In that respect, she isn't much different than Josh. Unfortunately, it's a quasi-incestuous relationship that really brings Cher out of her shell and gets her interested in the world outside of Beverly Hills. She's interested in Josh in all his grungy, intellectual activist glory. After years of being told that she's stupid and worthless, she finds herself wanting to prove something to him and her father.

The teen market is tough to reach, but "Clueless" does an excellent job by tapping into what concerns young people on a wider scale. They want to be valued. They believe they have talents, yet they inevitably feel that their skills go unnoticed. The belief that people need to be beautiful, popular, and rich to be valued by their peers is overwhelmingly widespread, but at the same time, many teens believe that the beautiful, rich, and popular among them have no other worthwhile traits. It's an idea that has pitted kids against each other—and themselves—since the invention of formal education.

Here, we have a main character with all the traits kids find appealing. Cher is the total package. She's gorgeous, and she's caring. She's rich, but she's generous. She's free-spirited but fiercely loyal. Most importantly, when she's called upon to use her intelligence to help her family, Cher rises to the challenge. In doing so, she isn't just telling girls that you can be both smart and pretty; she's showing every kid watching that they have the ability to do anything and be anything if they put their hearts into it. That's a message most teenagers believe, even if they wind up disillusioned by the second semester of their first year in college.

Another part of the movie that many teens won't engage with as readily is Cher's willingness to engage with literally anybody. She's the well-rounded girl who can hold her own in any social circle. While students like this exist—and those who do are generally popular—they're rare. The movie doesn't shine a light on how special this character is. She's an archtype of sorts, but her defining trait is fairly atypical. If "Clueless" has a flaw, it's that the story's most important character isn't given as much depth or individuality as some of the secondary characters. Mr. Horowitz, for instance, is shown to be a caring and devoted father despite not being the best of husbands. This ambiguity, however, may be essential to the movie's success.

The film has been wildly popular. It's raised over double its budget of $12 million in rental fees alone. Its opening weekend saw profits of over $10 million. Kids flocked to the theaters to see a lighthearted comedy starring a pretty girl in a funny role. Silverstone did a bang-up job of it. Her natural charm shone through and prevented her character from becoming just another brainless, superficial, rich high-school queen bee. On the surface, Cher may not be the sharpest tack in the tool chest, it's clear by the end of the movie that she is anything but clueless.

Rating: 3 out of 5