I really didn’t want to bag on Clueless when I watched it this time, the first time since the theater, almost twenty-four years ago. It got good reviews on release, which I fully disagreed with—I’d forgotten how much audiences in the eighties and nineties liked farcical sitcom-level characterizations. Particularly in the nineties with the lusterless, generically appealing male leads–Clueless has no standout male performances, not even Dan Hedaya playing Dan Hedaya playing a movie dad. Paul Rudd is a twenty-one year-old who ogles his fifteen year-old ex-step-sister, Alicia Silverstone, and presumably is her first lover, waiting until she’s sixteen. Rudd’s not playing it self aware.
Yes, Clueless would be a very different film if he were, but it might be at least somewhat honest. Jeremy Sisto is the creep who tries to force himself on Silverstone, then leaves her in a bad neighborhood to be mugged at gunpoint after she rebuffs him.
Breckin Meyer’s the stoner who Silverstone’s friend, Brittany Murphy, secretly likes but can’t tell Silverstone because Silverstone doesn’t approve of stoners. Meyer’s charmless but somehow too mediocre to be bad. Ditto Donald Faison as Silverstone’s best friend Stacey Dash’s boyfriend. There’s a lot to unpack with Dash and Faison as the only two Black people in the movie. I guess Sean Holland, as Faison’s friend, but… Holland’s not in it much.
Oh, and then there’s Justin Walker as Silverstone’s crush. There’s a lot to unpack with Walker too.
But I don’t have the vocabulary or experience to unpack Clueless. There’s even something about the phrase Clueless and who taught Silverstone—who frequently calls people clueless in her narration, which isn’t good either—to call people clueless and who to call clueless. Give me a Roman Polanski movie about demonizing a woman’s sexuality to talk about; I don’t feel comfortable talking about what writer and director Heckerling is doing with this one. Other the writing and directing an immediately dated, desperate for MTV credit (it is Paramount), dumbing down of Jane Austen’s Emma for audiences who would be embracing the original setting just a few years later.
Oh, wow. You know who gave it ★★★½. Oh, of course he did. Immediately disqualified. Holy cow, he doesn’t even talk about Rudd perving on a sixteen year-old. Hello, 1995.
I feel like I’m back in high school again describing how narrative arcs work. What’s really funny is… they work the same way I said they worked back then as they do now; now, after I’ve read a couple hundred actually great novels, done a bunch of undergrad (shudder) workshopping, and gotten an MFA in writing.
What’s so funny about Clueless is how much I wanted it to succeed. I mean… I knew it wasn’t going to happen from the opening credits, but I really did want it to be a win. I really wanted to be remembering it wrong. I really wanted Heckerling to have some good reason for the Paul Rudd thing—which, given the movie avoids ever letting Hedaya know about the “like, it’s not actually incest, Flowers in the Attic much” romance after building up his legendary anger the whole movie—but she doesn’t. It’s a combination of “well, see, it’s like Emma, see” and so Heckerling doesn’t actually have to write anything like actual character development. Why bother when you have a montage sequence.
Clueless is… oh, crap, I can’t say it’s clueless, can I? I can’t go so cheap. Clueless is tedious, best pinned to the wall of historical item to be examined. Though, sadly, not for anything Heckerling intentionally does in the film. She can’t even direct the actually funny parts well, which makes everything even more distressing.
Clueless is badly done.
Written and directed by Amy Heckerling; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Debra Chiate; music by David Kitay; production designer, Steven J. Jordan; costume designer, Mona May; produced by Scott Rudin and Robert Lawrence; released by Paramount Pictures.
Starring Alicia Silverstone (Cher), Paul Rudd (Josh), Dan Hedaya (Mel Horowitz), Stacey Dash (Dionne), Donald Faison (Murray), Brittany Murphy (Tai), Breckin Meyer (Travis), Justin Walker (Christian), Jeremy Sisto (Elton), Elisa Donovan (Amber), Aida Linares (Lucy), Wallace Shawn (Mr. Wendell Hall), Twink Caplan (Miss Toby Geist), and Julie Brown (Ms. Stoeger).