Clueless review by Mike Long

In the 1950s, it became clear to the movie studios and theater owners that the cinema was well-suited for teenagers, and since that time, there have been thousands of films made for and about adolescents. These movies vary wildly in quality, but most of them come and go very quickly as they are often a portrait of a specific time in Americana and don't age very well. Thus, it's only the teenage films which can transcend their particular moment in time which have any true staying power. With its now dated clothing and pop-culture references, the film Clueless would appear to be a prime candidate for obscurity, but the movie proves that well-developed characters and smart writing will ensure that a film is remembered.

Alicia Silverstone stars in Clueless as Cher Horowitz, a spoiled rich girl who lives in Beverly Hills with her father, Mel (Dan Hedaya), a powerful attorney. Cher's favorite activities are shopping for new clothes and spending time with her best friend, Dionne (Stacey Dash). Despite the fact that she doesn't have a license, Cher drives her new Jeep wherever she wants and she argues with her teachers until she gets better grades. And yet, Cher also sees herself as a do-gooder and attempts to form a relationship between two of her teachers (played by Wallace Shawn and Twink Caplan). When an awkward new school girl named Tai (Brittany Murphy) arrives at school, Cher feels that it is her destiny to give this girl a makeover and find a boyfriend for her. But, as Cher embarks on these seemingly altruistic journeys and the spotlight is removed from her life, she begins to realize that she leads a very hollow existence and works to improve herself as opposed to others.

Following the success of the two 1982 films Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Porky's, theaters and video stores were flooded with teenager movies which focused mostly on drug use and sex. This trend petered out over the next decade, so when Clueless arrived in 1995, it was a breath of fresh air for two reasons, as it was clearly trying to revive the teenager movie, but in a way which focused more on characters than on outlandish actions. Just as she did with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, director Amy Heckerling is able to take the kind of stereotypical characters which we all remember from high school and show that there is more beneath the surface. We are presented with the popular girl, the pretty boy, the stoner, etc. and as the film progresses, we learn that, for better or for worse, these people are more than what their exteriors suggest. To call Clueless mature would probably be an overstatement, but the film does explore the day-to-day complexities which occur in a teenagers life. And it does so by painting the story against the nearly surreal background of high-class Beverly Hills.

The most amazing accomplishment in Clueless is that Cher is a likable character. By rights, we should hate this spoiled girl who can buy anything that she wants and who feels that she has the power (and the right) to manipulate the lives of others. Yet, through Heckerling's writing and Silverstone's performance, Cher comes across as an innocent who is probably much wiser than she appears. I would never go as far as to call Alicia Silverstone a good actress, but she is perfect as Cher, aptly communicating this confused girls wants and needs. Cher is clearly the center of the film and keeping her likable, no matter what she does, allows the film to stay on track.

So Clueless is a step above the average teen film and has good characters and this has helped it to endure, but the film succeeds mostly because it's truly funny. It's no stretch to say that Fast Times at Ridgemont High got too serious at times, but with Clueless Heckerling deftly mixes clever dialogue with slapstick to create a truly funny movie. The film is never gut-busting funny, but there are many humorous moments which never leap outside of the film's self-imposed boundaries. From Brittany Murphy's pratfalls to Dan Hedaya's tirades, the films humor comes from the characters and helps the film to stay grounded. Yes, ten years later, Clueless looks very dated and it's interesting to note where the cast's careers have gone, but the important thing is that the film is still relevant and funny today.

Clueless vamps onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The new "Whatever!" Edition (more on that in a moment) replaces the previous DVD editions which were released in 1999. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This appears to be the same transfer from the 1999 widescreen release, as it looks similar and shares that transfers defects. The image is sharp and clear and relatively free from grain. The problem is that Clueless is a bright and cheerful film and some scenes look too dark and rather dull. For the most part, the film's lavish pastel palette is allowed to shine through, but there are some moments when it's noticeably muted. There are some minor artifacting issues as well. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and music. The stereo effects here are quite nice and there are some impressive surround sound moments, most notably from musical cues and the party scene. But, there is not much in the way of subwoofer action.

This new "Whatever!" Edition of Clueless fares much better than the barebones previous release, as it contains many featurettes, which in true Paramount fashion, could have easily been one long segment. The segments are made up of modern-day interviews with writer/director Amy Heckerling, cast members Donald Faison, Stacey Dash, Paul Rudd, Dan Hedaya, Wallace Shawn, Twink Caplan, Justin Walker, Breckin Meyer, Brittany Murphy, and director of photography Bill Pope. Noticeably absent is star Alicia Silverstone, who is only scene in interview footage from 1995. In "The Class of '95" (18 minutes), Heckerling discusses the origin of the film and how the script evolved, while the actors discuss their characters and the casting process. Heckerling continues talking about the script with "Creative Writing" (10 minutes), as she reveals that the story was original a TV pilot and she talks about the influence of Jane Austen's "Emma" on the movie. Costume Designer Mona May gives an overview of the film's clothes in "Fashion 101" (11 minutes). "Suck 'n Blow: A Tutorial" is a brief piece which looks at the party game played in the movie. The infamous "freeway scene" is analyzed in "Driver's Ed" (4 minutes). Finally, with "We're History" (9 minutes), the cast and crew reminisce about the film and talk about Heckerling's direction. The extras are rounded out with the "Teaser Trailer" and the "Theatrical Trailer", but of which are presented full-frame.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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