Alicia Silverstone

Clueless (1995, Amy Heckerling)

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.

Anyway.

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.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

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).


Batman & Robin (1997, Joel Schumacher)

I’m not going to defend Batman & Robin. It’s not so much a matter of the film being indefensible, it’s just a matter of it being a pointless exercise. And, by defend, I don’t mean identifying who gives the least embarrassing performance (Michael Gough) or who is just jaw-droppingly bad (Chris O’Donnell). Watching Batman & Robin, you can see the trailer moments, you can see the toy commercial moments, you can see the Happy Meal commercial moments. These moments aren’t hidden–Batman & Robin invites the audience to reveal in its brand possibilities.

It’s so blissfully unaware of itself, I almost don’t want to disturb that delusion. At the time of the film’s release, a friend of mine said, “if Schumacher wanted to do the TV show, they should’ve just done the TV show.” He was correct. Throw in the Neal Hefti “Batman Theme” and Batman & Robin would’ve been… well, it would’ve still been awful, because director Schumacher is making a movie for kids and trying to throw in adult stuff to make it appear grown-up.

Sure, the film’s objectively bad. Arnold Schwarzenegger is awful. Akiva Goldsman’s script is awful. Stephen Goldblatt’s photography is flat and boring (though everything except establishing shots being done on sets might have something to do with that boredom). The film’s so bad, you can’t even tell if it’s poorly edited or if it’s everything else about it. Elliot Goldenthal’s music’s awful though.

I should do a word count on “awful” for this post. But, see, I didn’t defend it. The film is a perfectly natural extension of where the franchise was going. It’s not about franchise fatigue or anything lofty; suspension of disbelief isn’t just plot holes and bad casting, it’s also about the work’s basic agreement. With Batman & Robin, Schumacher and company just told the viewers what they thought of them.

There’s nothing interesting to watch in Batman & Robin. I was sort of hoping Alicia Silverstone secretly gave a good performance or something wacky, but not really. She’s better than O’Donnell but so’s the guy who played Bane and he didn’t even have any dialogue. And it is interesting to compare George Clooney in this film to his later work. But none of those expectations or inquiries have anything to do with the film.

When you gaze long at Batman & Robin (and you do, because it’s endlessly long), Batman & Robin also gazes into you.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Schumacher; screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, based on characters created by Bob Kane; director of photography, Stephen Goldblatt; edited by Mark Stevens and Dennis Virkler; music by Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, Barbara Ling; produced by Peter Macgregor-Scott; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Mr. Freeze), George Clooney (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Chris O’Donnell (Robin / Dick Grayson), Uma Thurman (Poison Ivy / Dr. Pamela Isley), Alicia Silverstone (Barbara), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), Pat Hingle (Commissioner James Gordon), John Glover (Dr. Jason Woodrue), Elle Macpherson (Julie Madison), Vivica A. Fox (Ms. B. Haven), Vendela Kirsebom Thomessen (Nora Fries), Jeep Swenson (Bane) and Elizabeth Sanders (Gossip Gerty).


Butter (2011, Jim Field Smith)

Jennifer Garner plays a Sarah Palin-type evil Republican woman in Butter. There’s her character. She does a Sarah Palin in Iowa impression; nothing else. It’s easily the most useless performance in the film, but the film’s otherwise filled with good, rounded performances so it’s even more glaring.

And Garner produced the film too so she really just didn’t get it. It’s not all her fault, of course. Director Field Smith and writer Jason A. Micallef maybe should’ve understood you don’t make a wholly unlikable villain a main character, especially not such a real one. It’s not even possible to be sympathetic to Garner’s husband (an underused Ty Burrell) tomcatting around on her. Because his hooker of choice (Olivia Wilde) is human and not an evil monster.

On the flip side, Butter is also the story of a ten year-old black girl (Yara Shahidi) working her way through the all white foster care system in the state. She ends up with some well-meaning liberals (played by Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone) and they have all these profound, wonderful moments.

Shahidi’s half of Butter is amazing. Silverstone doesn’t have enough screen time, but Corddry does and he’s great in the muted comic role.

Wilde and Burrell are both good. Ashley Greene’s good as Garner’s stepdaughter. Hugh Jackman’s hilarious in an extended cameo….

But Butter can’t have it both ways. It should be a great film about race and family and belonging; Garner’s political spoof ruins it.

It’s a shame.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jim Field Smith; written by Jason A. Micallef; director of photography, Jim Denault; edited by Matt Garner and Dan Schalk; music by Mateo Messina; production designer, Tony Fanning; produced by Michael De Luca, Jennifer Garner, Juliana Janes and Alissa Phillips; released by The Weinstein Company.

Starring Yara Shahidi (Destiny), Jennifer Garner (Laura Pickler), Ty Burrell (Bob Pickler), Rob Corddry (Ethan Emmet), Olivia Wilde (Brooke Swinkowski), Alicia Silverstone (Julie Emmet), Ashley Greene (Kaitlen Pickler), Kristen Schaal (Carol-Ann Stevenson), Hugh Jackman (Boyd Bolton) and Phyllis Smith (Nancy).


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