Genre: Comedy, Romance
Director/Writer: Amy Heckerling
Music: David Kitay
Cinematography: Bill Pope
Transposing Jane Austen’s EMMA to Beverly Hills, Amy Heckerling’s 90s chick flick CLUELESS was a sleeper hit upon its release, spawned one less toothsome TV series, and has charmed its way with a cult following ever since.
What quintessentially demarcates this one from the derogative genre’s other huge supply of glops? It must be its attitude, which is devoid of self-importance in spite of that the whole picture is built upon a milieu predominantly reeks of snobbery and superficiality, ornamented by a pleasurable dosage of self-mockery.
Our heroine is Cher (Silverstone), a 16-year-old high school girl seems to be privileged of everything (beauty, youth, wealth and sagacity: knows how to give a wide berth to her inane male peers and more than willing to save her virginity for the one she will fall in love with), who has an unusual down-to-earth streak and all she wants is to be a Good Samaritan, plays match-maker to her two teachers, and determines to help an awkward blow-in Tai (Murphy) to gain popularity, and her BFF Dionne (Dash) is also on board.
An unmistakable girl-power through-line sails alongside the film’s polymorphic themes, ranging from adolescent crush (on a friend of Dorothy, a very spunky move to inject a positive vibe to the often sidelined minority), “he is not that into you” misunderstanding, chirpy school rivalry (a wonder at then where bullies are excluded within the context), to realize what/who a girl really wants (a corny epiphany under the fountain sending a homage to GIGI, 1958). A hiccup will duly arise, girls will squabble, but at the end of the day, for Cher, friendship is the real deal, in company with finding her Mr. Right (of course, no high-schoolers).
The recurring gag of “as if” might now sounds like a flea in the ear for all its affectation, but understandably, that also underlies its appeal, a spoiled blondie’s unashamed mannerism nonetheless, the whole scenario is lubricated by a good-natured cause and propelled by a crescendo of emotional honesty, you have the irony, humor and eye-candies in one combo! Two decades on, it is somewhat bemusing that Alicia Silverstone hasn’t catapulted into the A-list à la Emma Stone (nor is she led up the garden path à la Lindsay Logan either), her career would stick in a limbo ever since that ill-fated BatGirl offer. She has that “it” girl look and sweetness, and plies her shallow character with unstinting ammo of assurance and cutesy allure. The late Brittany Murphy, in her second film credit, also carries off an effervescent mien as the ugly duckling, a tad barmy, but not a shrinking violet steeped in lament.
Definitely capturing the teen spirit of 90s in America’s posh sphere, and thanks to a cunning maneuver of its time-honored source story, CLUELESS is high on wishful romanticism and low in adolescent toxin, harmless refreshment to a weary soul.
referential points: Douglas McGrath’s EMMA (1996) 7.1/10; Vincente Minnelli’s GIGI (1958), 6.6/10; Will Gluck’s EASY A (2010) 7.2/10; Mark Waters’ MEAN GIRLS (2004) 6.8/10.