Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Cher Horowitz is a friendly but somewhat superficial teenage girl living in ritzy Beverly Hills, California. She lives with her widowed father Mel, who chooses to spoil her rotten due to the death of his wife from liposuction. Meanwhile, Cher and her African-American friend Dionne are the two most popular girls at their high school and live relatively carefree lives until a naive new student named Tai Frasier comes to school, at which Cher and Dionne decide (half-sincerely and half-selfishly) to make her over so that she can be part of their crowd. Little does Cher know of the self-discovery and hardships she will endure throughout this seemingly innocent project.
Clueless is the motion picture equivalent of a musical "one hit wonder." The film came very close to making Alicia Silverstone the 90's equivalent of Molly Ringwald, only for her career to be immediately shattered after starring in such stinkers as Excessive Baggage and especially Batman And Robin. The film was also instrumental in defining my particular generation, both through its use of slang and through its sense of fashion. Of course, sixteen years later, the teen landscape has changed significantly (for better or for worse). So, with that said, how does Clueless hold up?
In theory, this movie should spell "kitschy chick flick." The protagonist has the voice, looks and mannerisms one would expect from a stereotypical valley girl. The plot is pretty much kept at close-quarters and never does anything particularly bombastic or earth-shattering, and the setting is stereotypical Beverly Hills (big mansions, a fancy shopping mall, etc.). What makes Clueless work is the way it rises above these cliches to deliver a smart and surprisingly original high school comedy with an extremely likeable cast and plenty of pleasant surprises to go along with it.
For starters, despite her stereotypical personality, Cher is surprisingly intelligent and perceptive. The entire film is subjectively narrated by her, often providing telling insights into the darker side of high school popularity. Even though she appears to have it all (as her annoying ex-stepbrother Josh bitterly points out), she gradually reveals herself to be surprisingly angsty and unhappy with her life. Fortunately, rather than demanding sympathy from the audience, our heroine does the smart thing and spends a good portion of the film dealing with this angst and attempting to bring more meaning into her life. With lesser writing, the movie would've ended with her being changed in an unrealistically drastic (ie. black to white) manner. Fortunately, Clueless wisely ends with Cher an undeniably better person while still retaining her enduringly quirky valley girl personality and love of all things fashion.
Clueless is also among the few high school movies released during the 90's that avoids such fallacies as dead-on-arrival slang. This is because the film cleverly invents most of its own lingo, much of which later became common in real life middle/high schools. And while Cher's somewhat free-ranged lifestyle may be hard to relate to if (like me) you grew up in middle class suburbia, it's at least believable enough that nobody should feel alienated when watching the movie.
In terms of individual performances, Alicia Silverstone is excellent as the charming but quirky Cher. Unfortunately, the actress would later be tossed into roles she wasn't really suited for (*cough* Barbara The *ss-Kicking British Scientist *cough*), resulting in an untimely career death through little fault of her own. Paul Rudd, meanwhile, makes his mainstream film debut as the sardonic and somewhat-jealous Josh. And, predictably, he's an absolute riot, paving the way for his roles in later films like The 40-Year-Old Virgin along with his brief stint on Friends. Brittany Murphy, meanwhile, is charming as the naive but surprisingly astute Tai. While Stacey Dash is solid as Cher's less intuitive and even more fashion-obsessed best friend. The support cast is also quite solid, with Breckin Meyer being especially funny as the movie's mid-90's equivalent to Jeff Spiccoli.
Perhaps the best thing about Clueless is that it provides something increasingly uncommon in high school movies these days: good, clean fun without any kind of preachy moralism or overblown raunchiness. There's no sappy moralistic revelation or parental talk at the end, no mean-spirited prank playing, no constant dropping of f-bombs, and no tasteless sexual discussion (although the topic is mentioned late in the movie). Plus, while Cher makes her fair share of blunders throughout the film (such as trying marijuana at a Christmas party), she's at her core a nice girl that parents should have no problem exposing their teens to.
Overall, Clueless easily stands as one of the best high school movies of the 90's. It takes a potentially cringe-worthy topic (the life of a spoiled valley girl) and turns it into something that's both charming and relatable. Combine that with a smartly written script and solid acting, and you get a surprisingly thoughtful and fun "chick flick" that, even more than fifteen years later, should appeal to both current generation high school students and young adults alike.
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Video Occasion: Good Date Movie
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older