Welcome back Betties and Baldwins. This week we’re rollin’ with the homies (otherwise known as Rebecca Aulburn) as we travel back to 1995 to look at a high school rom-com with more than a hint of literary heritage (and we don’t mean CliffsNotes). Yep, it’s the Austen-tastic Clueless!
“One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”
Emma, Jane Austen
“Isn’t my house classic? The columns date all the way back to 1972.”
Cher Horowitz, Clueless
Way back in, like, the century before, there was a girl. And she was totally the greatest matchmaker in the area. She was, like, way beautiful as well – but spent all her time helping others and no time at all on helping herself. Her daddy loved her, but he was old and busy. What she wanted was a man, not a boy. She had saved herself for so long and now she wanted to, like, live a bit. That’s the story of Emma, published in 1815. And Cher Horowitz repeats it 180 years later.
The 1990s brought us a great many things. There was a new wave of fashion, a new understanding of the world and a generation that had grown up with a new form of communication. While each decade had its own buzzwords, there was a global surge in word exploration. Bad meant good, sick meant well and like meant literally like, like.
Born to the sounds of MTV, Generation Y took on the world left by Generation X. Not as cynical, but with an innocence that deemed that hairspray couldn’t solve the ozone layer.
That would take shopping! Everything could be sold and solved in the mall, within its air-conditioned catharsis, there would be a solution to everything – down from $19.99.
While the new generation grew into their fashion, there was no one to guide them. Hollywood struggled with the new generation as they expected to drive the sales – not be driven by them. Amy Heckerling saw a new society of young women who, while breaking out for themselves, still had a comedy of manners based around costume.
Just as Jane Austen’s novels had been.
Looking for a heroine, she decided that she would have to be kind, resourceful and with a genteel heart. Emma Woodhouse would move to Beverly Hills and be reborn as Cher Horowitz, played by Alicia Silverstone.
Oddly, Alicia had just stepped out of a racy Aerosmith video to settle down as Cher – and she took the rest of the cast towards an institution.
Clueless spawned an empire. There were comics, books, movies, computer games, lunch boxes, musicals – all based around Alicia’s “pretty, sweet blonde who, in spite of being the American ideal, people still really like.”
One of the best things about the script is that Cher is Clueless. She simply cannot understand how the world works, but is determined to do the best she can. Her spending is out of control, her driving is petrifying and her empathy is weak – but her spirit is strong. There is no mountain that cannot be overcome, as long as Daddy can buy her some new skis.
The cast is equally strong. Josh (Ant-Man) plays a good hero with flaws, Tai is wonderful as Cher’s Muse – who already knows more than Cher, Amber is Cher’s nemesis – without being necessarily evil, Dionne is a great BFF and the guys all have arcs that they play with.
Where other films would simply show Cher running after boys, this film shows her restraint and discussions about things other than boys; while some of the boys are as childish and fashion-conscious as the girls.
Clueless starts off as a joke about the excesses of the 90s, but carefully steers it into the Valleyspeak, so you can understand that this is just the way that others live. Cher wanting to give her skis away to the Pismo Beach disaster fund seems to imply how she doesn’t understand the situation, but she counters by saying “They lost everything! Doesn’t that include athletic equipment?” To her, giving away $400 skis is about doing good, not about the cost.
Taking a closer look, there are some wonderful inclusions. The cast is extremely diverse, female-centric, has an openly gay character and discusses racial issues without soapboxing. There’s even a throwaway gag to 2001: A Space Odyssey which you can spot.
Clueless is a slice of the 90s that shows both how innocent and how educated children of that era were – just as Emma showed how the Regency were in her time.
“It’s like that book I read in the ninth grade that said, ‘Tis a far, far better thing doing stuff for other people.’”
Join us again next week as Claire Skinner takes us on a plane ride to 1997. Unfortunately every creep and freak in the universe is also on that one plane. Let’s hope they don’t somehow manage to take it over. We’d really like to get back for our daughter’s birthday party. You see we’ve got this box. And in it is… well, you know what’s in the box because next time we look at… (Seven? Ed). Er no. That was back in Week 24. No, next time we take a ride on Con Air!