By Tony Schwab
Clueless is one of the best cable movies and for good reason. While it borrows plenty of cliches from other high school movies, it is surprisingly unique. The characters start from generic types, but become totally individualized.The cinematography, music, editing, writing and acting all aim to show the unique world of the San Fernando Valley in the 90s.
The acting is satyrical without making the characters unlikable. Alicia Silverstone plays Cher as spoiled and entitled, but never consciously cruel. When she nags her teachers to change her grades, she does so because it seems like the obvious thing to do. When she fails her driving test, she is genuinely amazed that it could happen. The bubble that Cher grows up is in is shown to have its disadvantages, which makes her sympathetic.
Paul Rudd, who looks the same now as then, is a perfect foil. Where Cher runs from responsibility, Josh embraces it with aa annoying enthusiasm. We can tell that they are dealing with their privilege in opposite ways.
The buildup to their relationship is handed well, even if it is obvious half way through that they will end up together. They both try to find someone who is like them, but it doesn’t work. Josh is shown with a very intellectual girl who seems too serious for him. Cher has a horrible time with Elton before her crush Christian turns out to be gay. By the end of the movie, Cher is starting to think about acting more grown up, while Josh is stressed about the reality of being a lawyer. They are drawn to each other because they are opposites and because they balance each other out.
The technique of the film is hardly ever commented on. The color’s are very saturated, making the whole film bright and shiny. This fits perfectly with the way Cher and her friends see themselves. So does the very fast editing, especially in the opening montage. We get a sense of the way Cher is used to living very fast paced before she has even been introduced.
The dialogue is full of references that are of the time in a way that makes them funnier in retrospect. Radiohead are treated as a much less cool band than the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Mel Gibson is the most famous actor in the country. Like in Boyhood, it is touching the way the constant change of life is shown by the constant change in pop culture.
The movie is, or course, very funny. Scenes like Cher’s speech about The Haitans is rightfully famous. Wallace Shawn is perfectly cast as the very dry civics teacher. Stacey Dash and Brittany Murphy are Cher’s friends, and each of them are given great, goofy boyfriends.
Tony Schwab is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org