Why not? A few days ago I reviewed Legally Blonde (2001), so here is another film whose main character shares the same shade of hair: Clueless (1995). There are some similarities about the two: both female leads come from privileged, California families, and they each have a self-possession that can be both a blessing and a curse. Clueless is also based on Jane Austen’s Emma, and I discussed the recent movie version of the nineteenth century classic that was released earlier this year. That seems like a lifetime ago. Then again, so was the premier of Clueless. If you are familiar with the 1995 version of the story, I am here to tell you that it is difficult to tell any similarities between it and its source material.
Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) introduces us to the life she leads in Clueless by recounting a typical day for her, full of parties by her massive pool at her palatial estate and forays to the mall to weigh her arms down with several full bags. Her claim is that her activities are just like any other American high school girl, which is the first clue that the title of the film is apt. Her friends are of the same ilk, except for new-comer Tai Frasier (Brittany Murphy). Tai comes from a vastly different background and appears to be a fish-out-of-water at her new Beverly Hills school. Instead of dooming her to social ostracization, Cher takes Tai under her tutelage. Though this is certainly an act of kindness, what it ends up being is a master course in Cher making Tai more like the teacher. At the same time, Cher’s lack of wit leads her into a dalliance with Christian Stovitz (Justin Walker), who she does not realize is homosexual (despite the clues) until she is told by her friends. This sudden realization comes just before Tai turns against her and has seemingly taken Cher’s lessons too much to heart. While doing some soul searching through the vehicle of retail therapy, she takes stock of her life. Her musings lead her to contemplate her relationship with Josh Lucas (Paul Rudd), the son of one of her father’s (Dan Hedaya) ex-wives (this is a little awkward, but he is sort of her ex-step-brother). They had a sometimes contentious, sometimes flirtatious interaction, and she realizes that she is completely in love with him. But as he is a serious law student and she is (seemingly) an air-headed high school senior, she does not know if she is good enough for him. What wins him over, though, is the fact that she does genuinely care about people. There is Cher’s helping of Tai, her care for her father, and the way she looks out for the rest of her friends. She also leads a relief effort for victims of a natural disaster. So, not so clueless in the end.
It is in Cher’s genuine interest in the welfare of her friends, and her charitable efforts, that make her character sympathetic, that make Clueless enjoyable despite Cher’s flaws. There are the kind acts already mentioned, but also what she does for those she considers enemies. It reminds me of Jesus’ admonishment of how it is easy to be friendly towards ones companions, but that we are called to also embrace those with whom we might quarrel. When Tai first arrives at school, she strikes up a conversation with Travis Birkenstock (Breckin Meyer), a member of a social group known as the “Loadies.” “Loadies” were the skate-boarding and pot-smoking group that, in Cher’s eyes, were not for any young woman seeking the kind of respectability as she sought for Tai. After her brief fall from grace and subsequent self-reflection, Cher comes to the conclusion that she has behaved poorly towards Tai and Travis. To make amends, Cher accepts an invitation from Travis to watch him compete in a skate board competition. She finds Tai there, they make amends, and her friend reveals feelings for Travis. Thus all is well once more.
Clueless has some moments of casual promiscuity, though nothing out of control and within the bounds of its PG-13. What makes the film enjoyable is Cher’s heart. She may not completely or quickly understand the things going on around her, but her kindness almost always shines through. There are some genuinely humorous moments in it, but unfortunately these are done at the expense of her intelligence. It is not exactly a family friendly movie, but a solid one nonetheless. The link between it and Jane Austen’s novel is loose at best, but still enjoyable.