Paramount // 1995 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 1st, 2012
Sex. Clothes. Popularity. Whatever.
"He does dress better than I do; what would I bring to the relationship?"
Cher (Alicia Silverstone, Blast From the Past) is one of the most popular girls in her high school. She's earned a great deal of acclaim for her good looks, impressive wardrobe and ability to subtly find ways to improve the social atmosphere of the school. One day, a new girl named Tai (Brittany Murphy, Sin City) arrives. Tai is a socially awkward mess, but Cher regards Tai as a worthwhile project. Slowly but surely, Tai begins to transform into one of the popular girls. Meanwhile, Cher also attempts to tend to her complicated love life, which includes individuals like the much-adored Elton (Jeremy Sisto, Suburgatory), the aloof Christian (Justin Walker, Take Out) and Cher's father's intelligent step-son Josh (Paul Rudd, Role Models).
Now more than ever, Amy Heckerling's 1995 feature Clueless plays like a cinematic time capsule. Sure, it's a goofy updating of Jane Austen's Emma (and more fun than the more traditional big-screen adaptation of that tale starring Gwyneth Paltrow), but it's also an impressive catalogue of mid-90s pop culture. The dialogue is likely to send viewers of a certain age on a nostalgic journey into yesteryear:
"Cher's saving herself for Luke Perry."
"I can't find my Cranberries CD. I gotta go to the quad before anyone snags it."
"You look like Forrest Gump."
"Okay, okay, so he is kind of a Baldwin."
"We might get Marky Mark to plant a celebrity tree."
"That's Ren and Stimpy. They're way existential."
"Searching for a boy in high school is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie."
That last line is delivered by the film's protagonist, and it's a telling indicator of what deceptive intelligence lies beneath her ditzy exterior. Clueless is often regarded as a sharp takedown of Valley Girl culture -- and it is -- but it's fundamentally a movie that loves its clueless characters and permits some of them to have hidden depths. Cher's much sharper than she seems, though even at her brightest she comes across as a slightly dim bulb. Consider an exchange she shares with a fellow student:
Heather: "It's just like Hamlet said: To thine own self be true."
Cher: "Hamlet didn't say that."
Heather: "I think I remember Hamlet accurately."
Cher: "Well, I remember Mel Gibson accurately, and he didn't say that. That Polonius guy did."
Cher probably isn't even capable of recalling the actual line correctly (earlier in the film, she misquotes Dickens A Tale of Two Cities: "Tis a far, far better thing doing stuff for other people."), but is sharp enough to remember who delivered the line and what his name was. These contradictions continue throughout, and Cher has a tendency to deliver absurd opinions in delightfully entertaining ways: "Until mankind is peaceful enough not to have violence on the news, there's no point of taking it out of shows that need it for entertainment value." Silverstone's performance remains the defining role of her career. She has this way of grinning that is simultaneously infectious and amusing, and an enthusiasm which veers between touching empathy and guileless self-absorption.
Frankly, the only thing that prevents the film from firing on all cylinders is its casual devotion to Emma, which makes certain sections of the plot feel forced and clumsy. Still, this is a movie in which the plot hardly matters. The atmosphere, characters and wit are more than enough to sustain the film through any rough patches, as we enjoy hanging out with these ridiculous kids inside their lavish bubble of a world. The supporting cast is littered with talented supporting players, including Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride) as a perpetually exasperated teacher, Dan Hedaya (Alien: Resurrection) as Cher's irritable-yet-affectionate father, Brittany Murphy as Cher's ungainly new pal and Paul Rudd as the film's most appealing of Cher's suitors.
Clueless (Blu-ray) has received a rather satisfactory 1080p/1.78:1 transfer which thankfully preserves the film's natural grain and delivers strong detail. This is an immensely colorful flick, and the dazzling hues of Los Angeles circa 1995 really pop in hi-def. Flesh tones are warm and natural, blacks are impressively deep and shadow delineation is solid. The film isn't exactly a visual stunner, but this is a nice-looking transfer. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track also sounds solid, particularly when its serving up the broad array of rock selections littered across the soundtrack. Dialogue is clean and clear while the minimal sound design is distributed quite nicely. Again, not a knockout track, but well-done. Supplements are mostly recycled featurettes from the "Whatever! Edition" DVD release: "The Class of '95" (18 minutes), "Creative Writing" (10 minutes), "Fashion 101" (11 minutes), "Language Arts" (8 minutes), "Suck n' Blow: A Tutorial" (3 minutes), "Driver's Ed" (4 minutes) and "We're History" (9 minutes). You also get a trivia game and some trailers.
While Clueless is too inconsistent to rank as a genuinely classic comedy, it's still a whole lot of fun and it's driven along by a tremendously likable, memorable lead character. In other words, it's not in the same league as The Big Lebowski, but it certainly deserves a place on the shelf next to Wayne's World. The Blu-ray is solid.
Review content copyright © 2012 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Trivia Game