A Look Back: Clueless

Like the movie “Wayne’s World,” “Clueless,” a comedy that also came out in the nineties, managed to achieve what relatively few teen movies do: the successful transference of movie slang into real world slang. Unlike “Wayne’s World,” “Clueless” did not develop a cult following prior to the movie arriving in theaters (through an ongoing “Saturday Night Live” sketch) but did so after it came out on video. Or perhaps more accurately, it was responsible for Valley Girl speak making serious inroads into the East Coast public high school world – at least where I went to school. Such lingo can either be endearing (as it is in the movie) or annoying (if you’ve ever sat on public transportation and been reduced to counting the “likes,” peppering the speech of the person behind you).

“Clueless,” also has the honor of being loosely based on the Jane Austen novel, “Emma.” The former bears to the latter roughly the same relationship as Reddi-Whip bears to real whipped cream. In other words, it’s a frothy confection that has zero nutritional value and may have a few ingredients not technically found in nature, but still tastes good. In it, Alicia Silverstone plays a Beverly Hill princess named Cher Horowitz, who eventually learns that it’s a good idea to look in the mirror before attempting to fix the problems of one’s family, friends and teachers. Oh, and driving instructors. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Alicia lives in a mansion-like abode with single father, Dan Hedaya. Her best friend is the equally wealthy and fashionable Stacey Dash, who bonds with her because they both know what it’s like to be the target of envy. As her mother died when she was a baby, it’s lucky the two have a close relationship, and as Alicia points out, being the daughter of a killer litigator means she gets to fight with him for free. She also has a (totally non-related) stepbrother (Paul Rudd) who is focused on the future (he wants to become an environmental lawyer) and is, like, up on politics and which country their maid is from, and so finds Alicia annoying. But the feeling is mutual, and so, you know, one might want to keep an eye on further developments.

When the movie begins, Alicia is under a (temporary) cloud because she is still negotiating her end of the term grades. Believing correctly that happy teachers make for better updated grades, she and Stacey engineer a romance between Wallace Shawn and Twink Caplan (both of whom play their roles with their tongues firmly in cheek). She also befriends new student, Brittany Murphy, gives her a makeover and tries to fix her up. Alicia herself falls for a guy named Christian, who as her friend’s boyfriend puts it, dresses awfully well, so everyone except Alicia knows this is doomed from the start. Eventually, she has a moment of truth – following a disastrous driver’s test and a quarrel with Brittany – and realizes that the perfect guy – i.e. Paul – has been right there in front of her all along.

“Clueless” ends on a happy note with everyone finding their perfect match, and Wallace and Twink actually tying the knot. In Austen’s time, I suppose Alicia and her friends would be old enough to wed, but that wouldn’t translate well to the present era. “Clueless” is about the only movie I can think of where the most popular girl is not the meanest, so when she is eventually humiliated, you don’t want to stand up and cheer. Instead you root for her to do some growing up, and when she and her pampered friends do, it’s then that the viewer feels satisfied.


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