As if directing 1982’s Fast Times At Ridgemont High weren’t enough to cement Amy Heckerling’s legacy in the annals of high-school-moviedom, 13 years later she added Clueless, which she also wrote, to her CV. Both are exemplars of the form, and double as perfect documents of their respective time periods. Fast Times long ago reached “iconic” status, and was even selected for preservation by the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” so we’re giving Clueless its due by bestowing upon it an honor relatively on par with that, and making it our next Movie Of The Week. (Plus, the ’90s are very in right now.)
An adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma—and a remarkably faithful one, considering the lack of Dr. Seuss hats, feather pens, and Mighty Mighty Bosstones in that classic of English literature—Clueless translates the social mores and unexamined privilege of Georgian-Regency England to pre-millennial Beverly Hills, as seen through the designer shades of 15-year-old “Betty” Cher Horowitz, played by an 18-year-old Alicia Silverstone in her breakout role. Cher’s superficiality is matched only by her natural lovableness, the two of which combine to make her and her best friend, Dionne (Stacey Dash), the queen bees of Bronson Alcott High. Cher’s wealth, beauty, and confidence allow her to dictate the terms of her own popularity, as well as that of awkward transfer student Tai (the late Brittany Murphy), whom she remakes in her own image in an effort that’s equal parts charity and narcissism. Cher’s good-natured meddling extends to the love lives of her teachers and friends, though she struggles to apply her own iron-clad rules for love and relationships to her own life—particularly under the watchful, judgmental eye of her Baldwin of an ex-stepbrother, Josh (Paul Rudd).
Clueless gets a lot of comedic mileage out of the disconnect between Cher’s absolute confidence and utter cluelessness, not to mention Heckerling’s uncanny grasp of teen-speak, rendered in a half-invented slang vocabulary that’s become inextricable from Clueless’ legacy. It’s an eminently quotable nostalgia-fest, but it’s also strangely timeless in its hyper-specific portrait of youthful optimism and folly. We’ll be picking apart its singular charm all week, beginning with my Tuesday Keynote, followed by Wednesday’s Forum examining the film’s cast, use of language, high-school mores, and more. Then on Thursday, Tasha Robinson brings us home with an essay about how Ren And Stimpy are way existential—or she’ll be comparing Clueless to its 19th-century source material. It’s a mystery! If you want to find out, put on your best Alaia dress and new purple clogs, and roll with your Dissolve homies for Clueless week. It’s gonna be ragin.’
Upcoming Movies Of The Week:
April 15: American Psycho
April 22: Sherlock Jr.
April 29: A Fish Called Wanda
May 6: Godzilla