Director: Amy Heckerling
Cast: Alicia Silverstone, Brittany Murphy, Stacey Dash, Paul Rudd, Donald Faison, Dan Hedaya, Breckin Meyer, Justin Walker
Plot: Cher (Silverstone) is a popular airhead in high school, who makes giving new girl, Tai (Murphy), a makeover her pet project, unaware of the consequences it could cause.
Clueless is one of those movies that, if nothing else, deserves a watch from any 90s child that wants a dose of pop culture and nostalgia. Dripping with cringe-worthy slang and featuring an embarrassingly 90s soundtrack, Clueless wears its decade like a badge of honour. It makes it even more difficult to believe that Clueless is actually based on a Jane Austen novel, Emma, taking the themes and plot on-board, before crudely dumping it in Beverley Hills. Surprisingly, it works.
When it comes to liking Clueless, it depends on how much you like Alicia Silverstone’s spoilt yet adorable brat, Cher, as the lead. You will make that decision in the first five minutes. As her uber-Californian accent delivers the narration, she brings us up to speed on the background of the story and delivers laugh-out-loud examples of her blissful ignorance to the outside world, with only one or two distractions along the way (the internal epiphany scene is interrupted by a pretty dress in a shop window). You will either be unable to emphasise with the ditzy blonde or find her somewhat appealing and likeable. Personally, I thought Silverstone was the best thing about this movie, easily capturing that carefree essence of the character, and the film itself, and embodying that in every scene. In some moments, as the title suggests, she is utterly clueless, the audience figuring out her inner character before she does. The comedy lies in some of the face-palming lines she comes out with “Isn’t my house classic? The columns date all the way back to 1972.” “Duh. It’s like a famous quote from Cliff Notes!” It makes her more likeable that similar characters in movies like ‘Mean Girls’, because when her character does something we would usually lose touch with a lead over, we genuinely feel that she doesn’t know any better. It helps that, at heart, Cher is a generous person, most of her problems coming from looking out for other people rather than herself, even if this good nature comes from either proving a point or a simple distraction. Seeing as most of the obstacles in this movie are simple high school dramas, it is Alicia Silverstone that makes you actually care how it turns out. The supporting cast are also on-the-ball, taking smaller roles and shining with them. Brittany Murphy is incredible as the new girl, who shows up with a thick New York accent and an inability to make her way around a high school environment. Her character’s transformation into a Cher clone is interesting to watch. Donald Faison takes a bit part and makes us laugh with every appearance. Dan Hedaya takes a tired, grumpy Dad archetype and uses a well-written script to deliver some incredible lines. Then there is Paul Rudd, who does what he does in every one of his movies: play the straight guy. His job is to come across as the one normal guy in the entire story, reacting to the crazy world around him. Potentially boring, but Rudd is just so damn good at it. He can add an additional punch line to any joke with the simple raising of an eyebrow. His wit is sharp and natural. Rudd is the kind of actor who could be accused of cruising through his films, but the truth is that comedic acting is like second nature to him, so he never misses a beat.
Sadly, the story cannot quite keep up with the characters. Clueless just lacks a sense of direction. Cher is fun to spend time with, but as the movie hits its second act, it becomes clear that she is just drifting through the movie, rather than being set down any particular narrative road. Her character arc comes full circle, yes, which is more important than any of the trivial high school dilemmas, but without a fixed sense of purpose, Clueless feels adrift. We are introduced to Cher’s mall-hanging, school-cheating ways and then the story gives her Brittany Murphy’s Tai to bounce off of. This works, but that side of things is dropped, when Cher decides she needs a boyfriend in her life and focuses on that. For one, it becomes more stereotypical chick flick, which is, for this material, fine, but the change in pace is a little shaky. It would have been more comfortable if the two sides of the movie happened coincidently. This would have meant that Brittany Murphy wouldn’t be strangely absent for long periods of Clueless and it would also make the ending feel a little less rushed.
Final Verdict: Great fun, especially thanks to a well-judged turn from Alicia Silverstone, but the story lacks enough structure to make it through the final act.