Wednesday, March 12, 2014

36. Clueless (1995)

Code-name: Christian

Writer/Director: Amy Heckerling
[Loosely based on "Emma" by Jane Austen]
Type: chick flick, high school dramedy

Cher- Alicia Silverstone
Dionne- Stacey Dash
Josh- Paul Rudd
Tai- Brittany Murphy
Amber- Elisa Donovan
Murray- Donald Faison
Travis- Breckin Meyer
Elton- Jeremy Sisto
Debate professor Mr. Hall- Wallace Shawn
Ms. Geist- Twink Caplan
Gym Teacher Ms. Stoeger- Julie Brown
Cher's dad- Dan Hedaya
Christian- Justin Walker


As much as I love the 80's, which is home to the original "Valley Girl," I found that movie boring and I'm not a fan of Nicholas Cage in his goofy roles.
"Clueless" is the movie I go to for that iconic brand of girl culture.
Maybe a year or so ago, I also saw Gwyneth Paltrow's version of "Emma," the Jane Austen novel this movie is supposedly based on.
I think I spent most of the movie trying to refute that claim.
Yeah, the story has its similarities, but again, it's just not "Clueless."

It's just as much girl culture as it is high school culture. This is one of those rare occasions where the protagonist is one of the most popular girls in school, and she really isn't all bad. Her greatest fault is that she's extremely superficial and takes things for granted because her dad's a super rich litigator.
And her actions throughout the film to change that motivated by her desire to prove her former brother-in-law that he's wrong about her.

Why is his opinion so important to her? I'm not entirely sure. My guess is that she's used to everyone liking her and she wants to convert the one person who doesn't. Plus, he lives in her Beverly Hills mansion with her, so the teasing thrown in her direction is constant.

I guess you could say that I've been a fan of this movie as long as it's been around. My earliest memory was watching the movie with my friend, Pat, and the biggest thing that stood out was the conundrum of Christian.
More on him later.
In chick flick fashion, it's something I could watch hundreds of times and not get sick of it. The story is still very relatable and there's a character in it for everybody, whether you identify with them personally, want to be them or knew people like them. Probably the greatest thing about it for me is that there's always some treasure to be found in it. As you get older, some references and quotes become clearer.

Before I go into the cast, here's IMDB's trivial list of "what-if cast members"
Other people who auditioned for "Clueless" included Reese Witherspoon (Cher), Terrance Howard (Murray), Jeremy Renner (Christian & Josh), Zooey Deschanel (Cher & Amber), Owen Wilson (Travis), Leah Remini (Tai), Seth Green (Travis), Lauryn Hill (Dionne).and
Paul Rudd also auditioned as Murray, Christian and Elton.

All of these characters became big in their own ways. Some of which, I didn't even know they were acting in the 90's because they came to my attention in the last 10 years.

Except for Paul Rudd, Brittany Murphy, Breckin Meyer, Donald Faison, and Jeremy Sisto, the majority of the young cast are best known for their given roles.
Even the star Alicia Silverstone. She got as far as the fanboy disaster known as  "Batman & Robin" and really hasn't been heard from outside of one or two cameos and direct-to-DVD films.

The guy who plays her dad, Dan Heyada, I'd only seen in a similar role in the SNL-inspired film "The Night at the Roxbury." In a word, Mel Horowitz is a "ball-buster," doesn't take excuses from anyone. It goes with the territory of his professional life. As an on-screen dad, he has varying shades of protectiveness, bravado, and his unique brand of kindness. In some ways (less exaggerated, of course), he's a lot like my dad, so that's one part of it that drives it home for me. 

Another piece of myself I see in this movie comes from Tai. I didn't need the "Which Clueless Character Are You?" quiz I took recently to tell me that. She's the new girl that Cher and Dionne "adopt," take under their wing and give her the tools she needs to survive Bronson Alcott High School. Not that I'd ever been "the new girl," but she's socially awkward, kinda shy and sometimes, I wish I had Cher as a "life coach."

Possibly following Josh's example, she advised Tai to
  • read one non-school book a week ("Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus")
  • improve her vocabulary ("I hope not sporadically")
  • improve her physique ("and my buns, they don't feel nothin' like steel")
  • try to do something good for mankind or the environment
The only bit of advice that went array went array in a MAJOR way.
Of course, I'm talking about the Elton debacle here.
Cher finds high school boys so vastly immature that she can't see herself dating them, but she tries to set up Tai with Elton. Gently nudging her in his direction. Taking her to a party where he'll be there and gets them to dance together (I dare you to say you didn't know  "Rollin' with the Homies" before seeing this movie!).
Unfortunately, he misinterprets her intentions, thinking she's the one into him and the horror didn't end with him abandoning her at a gas station. And the bad karma continued with her later into the film where Tai ended up becoming a monster that outdid her in the popularity department. (Although not to the same degree as Cady Heron in "Mean Girls," another Amy Heckerling production).

Before Tai came along, we got to know Cher as the popular girl who knew how to schmooze teachers into changing her grades. All except for Mr. Hall, her debate professor (Wallace Shawn, otherwise known as Rex from the Toy Story movies or that "inconceivable girl" from "The Princess Bride") and Ms. Geist.
Her solution, ultimately, was setting them up and magically, that improved everyone's grades. Ah, only in the movies would that ever happen.
But it's definitely worth Cher's dad's response to her C in debate turning into an A;
"I couldn't be happier than if they were based on real grades."

It's always interesting to see how teachers are portrayed on film and how iconic they can be sometimes. My friend Pat and I still look back on and bring up Ms. Stoeger in gym class:
"Cher! Earth to Cher! Come in, Cher!"
By the way, not all female gym teachers are same-sex oriented. One of my middle school gym teachers was married to the brother of one of my other gym teachers. But that's just one example.

Speaking of same-sex oriented, now's the time to bring Christian to the discussion.
He's the transfer student that joins Cher's debate class in the spring semester and she falls head over heels for him. She pulls out all the stops to get him to notice her. Drawing attention to her mouth, dropping her pen for him to pick up, sending gifts to herself... The one bit of advice I actually tried was "showing more skin."  One day, I wore a nicer top to school to get my crush to notice me at our lunch table. I did get the reaction I wanted, but it was more like shock and it only lasted for a moment :-P oh well

So she did get a couple dates with him.
The first one was to a dance party where they ended up running into Tai and Josh was nice enough to dance with her. But my favorite part of that was before they even left the house.

Mel: Cher, come in here... what is that?
Cher: A dress
Mel: Says who?
Cher: Calvin Klein
Mel: It looks like underwear. Go put something over it
Cher: Daddy, I was just going to...

Worth a laugh every time I watch 8-)

The second was one-on-one. Cher did all her preparations, most don't go as well as she hoped nd he ends up high-tailing it in the middle of "Spartacus" (he had a thing for Tony Curtis) when she starts to get fresh.
It took a guy's perspective for Cher and Dionne to realize one of this movie's biggest bombshells: Christian was gay.

That stuck with me for the first couple years because I really didn't know what it meant. All I really grasped was that Cher and Christian were not going to happen as a couple.
Ironically, I had a friend named Christian who I had a crush on for maybe a couple months and he came out of the closet a couple years later. Apparently, it took me years to become perceptive in such things because I fell for two gay men in high school.  
Every now and then, it happens with actors too... as if it's bad enough that you don't have a chance with them because you don't run in the same social circles. :-P

But once this realization comes and goes, Christian becomes a fixture in Cher's life as one of her best shopping partners. And we all know how much Cher loves to shop. (I'm not a girly girl who loves clothes shopping, but this quick short scene makes me wish I had a best gay to shop with too).
It's a shame that the newer generations who see this movie won't know what Polaroids are. When she shops, Cher trusts them over mirrors any day.

One scene all of us can relate to is where Cher fails her driving test. My weakness was parallel parking (just like Judy Funnie in "Doug"). Cher was just a terrible driver in general on the day where it mattered most. It was only a matter of time before she found her kryptonite, the one situation she couldn't talk her way out of.
And the timing of it causes a rift between her and Tai, who drops the ultimate insult:
"You're a virgin who can't drive."

Probably one of the strongest themes this movie has is not to trust a book by its cover or trust first impressions of people.
Tai hit it off with the ever-tardy skateboarder Travis because they have things in common and Cher talks her out of it because he's a stone that "no self-respecting girl ever dates"... and by the end of the movie, she realizes she was wrong about him.
The same thing with Josh, who she ends up falling head over heels for.

I mean, how could you not? Paul Rudd, he's one of those people I am so happy that they're still acting and doing really well in the industry. I remember seeing him cast in "Anchorman" and the movies that followed... I almost always enjoy watching him and he's still as good looking as he was in this, his first big movie role.

Brittany Murphy, I kept up with a lot of her movies after this one... heck, I think I had to be told it was her because she was blonde in every other role after this one. Uptown Girls, Just Married (ok, that one was bad), Little Black Book (cringe-worthy at times)... it sucks what happened to her a couple years ago. She was gone too soon :(

Yeah, is it that obvious how much I love this movie? :-P
It's iconic, it's quotable, great cast and great story.


The next two weeks will focus on more dramatic films that got Oscar buzz in recent years.

The first one is a Best Picture winner I still argue against... but seeing it was a uniquely breath-taking, pulse-quickening, intense experience.
:-P I think I might have given it away already, but oh well, so be it.


Anonymous said...

Great movie
One of my favorites as well

Arlee Bird said...

I'm sure I saw this film. I used to watch films in this genre when my daughters still lived at home and I quite enjoyed them. Now that they've flown the coop it's my wife and I watching the movies. Since my wife prefers action films that's usually what we get.

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