"Like… whatever." It's the movie that inspired the entire nation to adopt Southern California Valley Speak… now it's available on DVD in an aptly-named "Whatever" edition DVD. But is it possible that this movie, responsible for the spread of the worst parts of America's lexicon during the 1990s is actually a good film? Perhaps surprisingly… yes.
Based loosely on the Jane Austen novel, Emma, "Clueless" focuses on Cher Horowitz (which formally introduced Alicia Silverstone to the cinematic world… and likely typecasting her for the next decade) and her interactions in the world of Southern California's affluent suburbs. Cher is vapid and self-absorbed, a stereotype of the highest order, personifying New York Post celebrity gossip columns. Living her life by her social calendar, Cher does partake in some perceived social charity – though it is largely for her own benefit. She hooks up her teachers to get them in a better mood and get better grades. She takes on a project to renovate the new girl in town, Tai (Brittnay Murphy), away from her slacker attractions and New York style and into the social scene to prove that she can do it.
But Cher is also looking for love… but as the song says, she's doing it in all the wrong places. Though she detests boys, Cher starts to realize the benefits of having a steady in her life. Trying to seduce the new, Elvis-impersonating homosexual at school probably isn't the best way to start, but when Cher does see her path, she finds it in a most unexpected place.
One of the biggest criticisms I can level against "Clueless" is its lack of focus. Jumping from topic to topic, the film is loosely organic but still takes on a large number of narrative topics without dedicating itself to any. While this may be an unintentional reflection on the focus of the protagonist of the film, I found it distracting. As a result, "Clueless" becomes more a character piece about the growth of Cher, looking at her life, fall, and the rebirth of her perception of the world around her and how it works.
As great as Alicia Silverstone is playing Cher, the movie lives and dies by its supporting cast. Without excellent actors like Stacey Dash and Breckin Meyer to reinforce the stereotypical concepts, or if anyone played their role half-assed, "Clueless" wouldn't work. But because the seemingly silly romantic subplot is played straight, complete with Cher's naïve voiceover, I can buy into it as a viewer. The same goes for Paul Rudd as Josh, Cher's do-gooder step brother and Dan Hedaya as the over-the-top lawyer who provides Cher's extravagant lifestyle. If they didn't have a good dynamic with Silverstone, it would be impossible to accept the outlandish concept of the film; but because it works, so too does the film.
Certainly "Clueless" is a film mired in its era. Fortunately the base story is able to transcend (or perhaps enhance) the dressings of the film and a neat little portrait of ego and wealth in an affluent life comes out. Good actors, interesting characters, a wonderful (if overly complex) story all combine for a film that still holds up as entertaining today. I liken it to "Saturday Night Fever." The ideological concepts are solid, even if the dress and verbiage is a smidge out of date. "Clueless" is a picture of an era with a solid, entertaining story at its core.
The 1.78:1 Anamorphic video makes the movie look as good as it ever has. Slightly soft, the colors are vivid and the lines are solid. The grain on the video does create some aberrations and compression but none are distracting.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is a clear representation of the original theatrical presentation. It's clear and bright with some nice bass response. It's nothing spectacular but another solid entry from the Paramount crazy-named double-dip series.
Clocking in at just 97 minutes, there is plenty of space on this DVD to pack some extra features. Or "Bling" as the front cover proclaims. Talk about mixing era's metaphors. Oye.
The DVD set starts off with those lovely forced promos for the new DVD of "Airplane," "Charmed: Season One," "Mad Hot Ballroom" (Which looks fabulous, in the same vein as "Spellbound"), among others.
"Class of ‘95" goes into the casting of the film, one of its strongest aspects. Heckerling talks about working with teenagers and how she got involved in the picture and discovered Alicia Silverstone. The documentary explores how the character of Cher developed and how Brittany Murphy became Tai.
"Creative Writing" delves into the creation of the movie. Though this would have been better put first, Heckerling talks about the mission she was put on to create a teenage film… and how she made it her own by making it a mocking of the modern SoCal teen. And the long rumored connections to Emma are confirmed as Heckerling explains her influences and where the characters came from.
The costumes in "Clueless" were some of the most amazingly unique in cinema in the 1990s, both reflecting current trends and creating its own hyper-real style. "Fashion 101" talks about the style of the film with the movie's fashion designer.
As much as the fashion made the movie work… the dialogue made it memorable. "Language Arts" goes into the nifty slang that's brought up, like Barneys and Bettys. Heckerling says she compiled lists of colloquial phrases that were incorporated into the movie. Everything from so simple from "Outie" to "a full on Monet."
And just in case you ever need a tutorial… there is a tutorial on how to play "Suck and Blow." They also go through the pains of using a true credit card in the game and the lengths that had to be gone to complete the scene.
"Driver's Ed" goes through the frightening freeway scene and what had to be done to complete it. It's slightly surprising what went into such a brief scene in the movie.
"We're History" talks about the cultural impact that "Clueless" had on the cinematic public as well as the people who viewed it. The actors reflect on the film along with the director and what she did for them.
The Teaser and Theatrical trailers are included for posterity.
"Clueless" is cute, sweet, and has a real heart. It's dated, to be sure, but in a way that makes it more quaint and wonderful. I'll be mocked for having it in my collection, but won't regret it for a moment.