It’s nearly cliche to say you love the film Clueless in 2015. It’s because it’s played regularly on cable networks MTV and VH1. And at this point, it’s never, ever leaving Netflix. There are also those T-shirts of the original poster immortalized on tank tops and tees, sold at Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters. And nostalgia is basically a rubric of the internet age. Clueless is treated as one of the most prized treasured of the 1990s. Articles and listicles have been posted about how awesome the film was even before its 20th anniversary, which is today, July 19. (It was a Wednesday back in 1995!)
A new generation has adopted Clueless as one of its favorites. But for actual kids, teens and twenty-somethings of 1995, it is ours! Or as my sister says, “her generation’s film.” It really was.
I first saw the film during its original release twenty summers ago when I was eight-years-old and my sister treated me to movie night at the Copley Place Cinemas in Boston. (It’s since become a Barneys New York department store. I think I saw every other major blockbuster of the ’90s there. Two of the last films I saw were Saved! and Thirteen).
The theatre was packed and I admit. Throughout the film, I only got about four of the jokes because I was eight (and I didn’t realize the phrase “carpe diem” was actually said), but that didn’t stop me from adoring Clueless from beginning to end. The summer Clueless was released, after starring in Aerosmith videos and the thriller The Crush in 1993, Silverstone became an on-of-the-moment It girl of pop culture.
I always say that one of the major things that made Clueless so special was that it was of its time while still being ahead of its time (a.k.a. the revolving bedroom closet, controlled by a remote and connected to an IBM system, prominently in the opening scenes). Screenwriter and director Amy Heckerling was so accurate in how she depicted the MTV generation. Clueless even featured then mall staple of Contempo Casuals as a set location and line for the character Josh, played by Paul Rudd (“You know, in some parts of the universe. Maybe not in Contempo Casuals…”) I remember giving Heckling then and there major points for featuring the store. My aforementioned sister, a total Gen-X-er, could not have shopped there enough. I honestly think every mini backpack she owned was purchased there and she had a mountain of them reaching at what looked like twenty-five. When I was little and would tag along to the mall with her, I groaned and moaned whenever stuck for thirty minutes at a time in Contempo Casuals. Now, I wish I still had one of those awesome big ass hats they sold that Dionne, played by Stacey Dash, wore in the film and a mini backpack. (Political agenda aside, does nobody else think that Dash’s film career deserved more?)
And those plaid skirt suits. Yes, please, and where could we get one? No one was wearing that (yet) in ’95! Entertainment Weekly confirmed that 20 years later, Cher’s yellow suit, famously worn and played by Alicia Silverstone, from the beginning scenes “still endures today.” It’s like the Jackie O Chanel suit of ’90s young people. The costume department and head designer Mona May even made knee-high socks chic again. And I also unforgettably learned what “an Alaia” was.
Thus, the language of the script! Just as epic as the fashion, who could forget the retorts of “As if!” and “What-ever!” peppered with the ocassional pre-Dawson’s Creek poetics of, “I was brutally rebuffed!” and “I was surfing the crimson wave. I had to haul ass to the ladies.” The cast was brilliant in mixing parody with vocal sincerity.
Heckerling was inspired to write Clueless based off of the 1815 novel Emma by Jane Austen. The script was a satire of American high school life (but with a lot of heart) in Los Angeles. Yet Heckerling’s dialogue, direction and even the detailing of little touches, like when Donald Faison‘s character Murray was introduced by the instrumental of Salt-N-Pepa‘s “Shoop” all added to Clueless being so hilarious, now and memorable. The films also scored high in being one of the extremely few to transition as a television series and succeed. In 1996, the TV series version of Clueless premiered on UPN and finished on ABC in three seasons. Almost all of the entire original cast starred in it, and Heckerling further gave her blessing in directing some episodes. Cast exceptions were Rudd and Silverstone, the latter replaced by an impressive Rachel Blanchard. She held her own in the big, already iconic shoes of Cher.
In 2012 for its 17th anniversary, Entertainment Weekly reunited the cult classic cast, with Silverstone and Dash on the cover, and inside, Breckin Meyer (Travis), the underrated comedienne talent of Elisa Donovan (Amber), Rudd, Wallace Shawn (Mr. Hall), Jeremy Sisto (Elton), Twink Caplan (Miss Geist. Caplan was also the film’s Associate Producer) and Justin Walker (Christian). Sorely missed was Brittany Murphy, whose breakthrough role was playing the New “Joisy” twang voiced Tai in the film. Murphy sadly passed away in 2009 of cardiac arrest. She was only 32. I personally eulogized her in an “In Memoriam” piece that year in writing “You’ll always be Tai to us.” And for an oral history of the film’s party scene in the Valley, published by The Cut in 2013, Meyer solemnly commented “It continues to suck that she’s not here.”
Lastly, the music selected (by Music Supervisor, Karyn Rachtman) was great! “Kids In America” by The Muffs, “Alright” by Supergrass and “Where’d You Go” by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones? The whole soundtrack was a touchstone of the huge film soundtrack era of the 1990s. Who’s got Jill Sobule‘s “Supermodel” ready?
I wrote this post as I watched Clueless (on Netflix, of course) for what may be the 200th time and I still can’t watch it without saying certain parts verbatim (“If she doesn’t do the assignment, I can’t do mine” -Amber). The film has been credited for being the inspirational backbone of later girl world comedies such as Legally Blonde and Mean Girls. Joining the many tributes for the film already online came an official book on the film’s (again oral) history this year easily titled As If! by Jen Cheney (I NEED THIS BOOK) and a Broadway version is on the way. Last year, the documentary on teen films Beyond Clueless was released by Charlie Lyne. And I’m not going to be a hater and not mention Iggy Azalea‘s remake of Clueless’ most famous scenes for her “Fancy” music video with Charli XCX (also adding to why kids growing up in today’s social media state of mind think the film is theirs to have. Hmmm…!)
On the day of its 20th anniversary (it’s finally here!) below are GIFs featuring and commemorating one of the greatest comedies ever. (In the novel Bergdorf Blondes by Vogue writer Plum Sykes, the author had her leading male love interest and cinephile Charlie say to protagonist “Moi” that everyone in Hollywood has to watch Clueless if they haven’t already. Such an observation has been solidified with the film’s critical acclaim growing with each passing year since 1995. If I was any shape or form involved with the film, I would say “f*ck chronological order” and have it at the top of my resume: I WORKED ON CLUELESS).
Clueless is a constant that I’m glad I was a ’90s child. (Thanks mom). And to Amy Heckerling, you are a “duchess.” (Do you recall which character called Cher that in the film?)
And don’t forget to jam to General Public‘s 1984 song “Tenderness” which you might remember as the song playing during the the closing credits of the film. Yay!
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