Clueless (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

As appealing as Alicia Silverstone is (and she possesses that ethereal "star quality" which is sadly lacking in many of today's up-and-coming performers), her presence can't quite elevate this breezy comedy to the level of a modern classic. A contemporary reworking of Jane Austen's Emma that is part pop satire and part teen comedy, Clueless shows its unevenness early, overcomes some flaws through vivacity and likability, then runs out of steam during the second half. Better than, but still similar in tone to The Brady Bunch Movie, this film contains its share of delightful scenes, but it's debatable whether there are enough to justify a feature-length running time. Charm this thin starts to wear off before the running length has expired.

Silverstone (The Crush) leads the cast as ultra-Valley girl Cher -- a 16-year old with a very rich daddy (Dan Hedaya, best known as Carla's ex on Cheers) who uses a computer to assist with her wardrobe selection and would rather argue with her teachers for better grades than do assignments to earn them. Cher loves to talk, as is amply demonstrated by a series of endless voice-overs that occur throughout the film. Her best friend, Dionne (Stacey Dash), is equally as superficial, so it's not hard to understand why the two get along so well. Clueless looks at a number of Cher's "escapades": her attempts to turn a sweet-but-uncool schoolmate (Brittany Murphy) into the epitome of popularity, her matchmaking between two teachers (Twink Caplan and respected character actor Wallace Shawn), and her search for true love. Essentially, nothing much happens -- the film is an excuse to plunge into the life of a caricature that Silverstone makes more appealing than one might reasonably expect.

Much of the humor is sophomoric, although there are more than a few moments of inventive comedy (such as an unexpected ride on the freeway). Writer/director Amy Heckerling creates a tone so light that it borders on vapid. Despite the apparent mindlessness of certain key characters, some of the dialogue is clever, and there are a few memorable lines. Ren and Stimpy are described as "way existential". In the spirit of political correctness, female virgins are called "hymenally challenged". And Cher likens her hopeless quest for a high school boyfriend to "searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie."

Overall, though, that's all Clueless amounts to: a group of modestly amusing, satirical vignettes tied together by one-liners. The picture doesn't offer any big laughs, and character identification is spotty -- Heckerling's Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a top-level teen picture, worked in large part because the protagonists seemed real. In that case, Cameron Crowe's script aimed for fun and feeling. Here, the latter is occasionally sacrificed for the former, and the result leaves a mixed impression. In part because the film is so inoffensive (no sex, nudity, or violence), it lacks a discernable edge. Clueless is the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy: certainly not unpleasant, but not especially satisfying despite the sweet taste.

Clueless (United States, 1995)

Director: Amy Heckerling
Cast: Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Dan Hedaya, Wallace Shawn, Twink Caplan
Screenplay: Amy Heckerling
Cinematography: Bill Pope
Music: David Kitay
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Run Time: 1:38
U.S. Release Date: 1995-07-19
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1