Sunday, March 10, 2013

Family Movie Night: Clueless

Title: Clueless
Director: Amy Heckerling
Original Release: 1995
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Image via Amazon

If you haven't seen this movie, you might be forgiven for assuming it's a vacant tale about a ditzy blonde.   Nothing in the title or the poster would suggest that anything beyond the usual teen movie drivel is on offer.  I myself was highly skeptical of the film when it was in theaters back in the day and might never have watched it if not for the encouragement of respected friends.  On the other hand, if you have already watched it, you probably know that a more intelligent current runs behind the glossy facade.

Loosely based on Jane Austen's Emma, Clueless is cleverly written with engaging, nuanced characters.  While Cher, the protagonist, and her friends all appear at first to fit the John Hughes teen movie cliches, each of the principals is allowed to grow and challenge his/her own pigeon-hole.  By the end of the movie, they all feel less like caricatures and more like real people.  The teen-speak which pervades can grate a bit, I will admit.  But smart comedy saves the film at its most cringe-worthy moments.

Cher seems to have an ideal, affluent suburban life but a less than perfect report card spurs her to action.  Faced with a particularly stubborn debate teacher (played by Wallace Shawn), she decides the best plan of attack is to fix him up romantically with another teacher.  This is just the first of a string of good deeds Cher fulfills, initially motivated by self-interest but ultimately by genuine compassion.

My own favorite character is Cher's father Mel, played by Dan Hedaya (we've seen a lot of him recently).  When a date arrives at the house to pick up Cher, Mel delivers one of my favorite lines in all of film:
"Anything happens to my daughter, I got a .45 and a shovel. I doubt anybody would miss you."

The soundtrack is excellent, as should be expected from all teen movies. The songs are used in unexpectedly clever ways.  A couple are used to symbolize characters.  Actually, we're hit over the head with the fact that Coolio's "Rollin' with My Homies" represents Elton (popular jerk guy, played by Jeremy Sisto).  But Josh (quiet, nice guy played by Paul Rudd) also has a song, more subtly placed: Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees."  Better guy, better song - makes sense to me.

Multi-generational considerations:
  • Clueless is rated PG-13 for language, drug use and sexually-themed conversations.
  • Our Girl made her usual complaint of "too much kissing," but not until the very end.


  1. Reading your reviews always makes me want to write something that you would review favorably because you come off as this very mellow, easygoing person but (I think) that actually belies a very appraising inner landscape filled up with well-considered opinions that make your good one worth the earning.

    1. Btw, loved Dan in this.

      I do an impression of that scene which never fails to crack my Dad up. I love making my dad laugh.

    2. Joe Vs. The Volcano - have not seen that in many many years.

      The whole scene in Clueless between Mel (Hedaya) and Christian (the date, Justin Walker) is just brilliant - worth the whole movie.

      The same night we watched Clueless, we also watched Mulholland Drive (after the kid went to bed, of course). He's in that one, too - yet another great cameo.

    3. Did you catch him in 'The Addams Family' as Gomez's lawyer? He's a real scene stealer.

    4. Of course!

      He sure is. I knew him first as Nick Tortelli from Cheers. That character is so awful that it's hard to like him but I love seeing him in movies.

    5. There was eventually an ancillary show called 'The Tortellis.' Those plentiful '80s spinoffs rarely had enough hope to float, though. Here's another Nick that didn't quite get out of the gate.

      Seeing Julia Louis Dreyfus in that clip is a perfect example of how a good actor *needs* an airtight script to give off any kind of shine.

    6. Wow, I forgot all about that Nick! "Hey, Mallory..."

      I think it's possible that I watched the first episode of The Tortellis. I was devoted enough to Cheers to follow spinoffs, even of characters I didn't really like. But as I recall, it was pretty painful.

      To your second point, good writing saves bad acting far more often than the other way around. How else can one even explain the career of Keanu Reeves? I learned long ago that one should never see a film for the actors. Director or writer, sure - but not the actors.

    7. So, hey, I know this really fun (in my opinion) game where all you need are two minds and a mutual familiarity with actors and film. You up for giving it a shot? :)

    8. Maybe...

      What exactly do you have in mind?

      Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

    9. Kind of(ish.)

      We choose two actors and the challenge is to link them by co-stars in as little moves as possible. The one who links them in the least moves wins.

      Ex. John Cusack and Tom Hanks.

      Cusack did voicework with Meg Ryan in 'Anastasia.'
      Meg Ryan was with Tom Hanks in 'Joe v. Volcano.'

      Two moves. Shortest link.

    10. Okay, my daughter is on Spring Break and she chose the actors for the first one. You ready?

      Matthew Broderick and Fred Savage.

    11. Fred Savage with Cary Elwes in 'The Princess Bride.'

      Elwes with Meg Ryan in 'Top Gun.'

      Ryan with M. Broderick in (I think it's called) 'Addicted to Love.'

      Three moves. Top it?

    12. Two:

      Savage with Elwes in "The Princess Bride."

      Elwes with Broderick in "Glory."

      I don't know. This loses something with Internet access and time to think.

      Also, Elwes wasn't in "Top Gun." He was in "Hot Shots."

    13. HA! Hahahahaha! I am so laughing at myself. See, I didn't watch 'Top Gun.' I guess that was Val Kilmer, huh?

      You're not allowed to look things up! You're supposed to only access the data in your brain.

      I'm impressed you got it in two moves. I really didn't think you could top three. A worthy opponent.

      Though one who gives up too soon ...

    14. Without the Internet, I couldn't have.

  2. I just introduced this movie to my teenage daughter and her friends a few weeks ago, They loved it and have been quoting it ever since.

    Dropping my from A to Z Challenge. This is my first year participating.

    Brett Minor
    Transformed Nonconformist