Film review: Clueless (1995), directed by Amy Heckerling
Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) lives with her father (Dan Hedaya) in Beverly Hills. She has an older step-brother, called Josh (Paul Rudd), that she keeps bickering with. She has a best friend, Dionne (Stacey Dash), whose goofy boyfriend is played by Donald Faison, a.k.a. Turk in Scrubs. Cher is interested in fashion and goes to school, where she has the brilliant idea of setting up two of her teachers (Twink Caplan and Wallace Shawn, the latter having the catchphrase “Inconceivable!” in The Princess Bride). Cher is a bit of a matchmaker.
A new girl, Tai (Brittany Murphy), comes to town and Cher instantly takes her under her wing. After all, she looks like a bit of a loser – surely the magnificent Cher can improve her? That her new project seems interested in a slacker (Breckin Meyer) as opposed to the more upstanding Elton (Jeremy Sisto, the creepy Billy in Six Feet Under) is a problem that needs solving.
For anyone familiar with Jane Austen’s Emma, you know the rest. Cher = Emma, Josh = Mr Knightley, Tai = Harriet.
Emma tries to set up Mr Elton with Harriet, but Mr Elton is in love with Emma. When she turns him down, he turns his attentions to someone else (Elisa Donovan, in this case, she was Morgan in Sabrina the Teenage Witch). Then the all around awesome Frank Churchill, in this case he’s called Christian (Justin Walker – googling images kept returning pictures of the youngest sibling in Brothers & Sisters) comes along and causes a stir. Eventually, Harriet turns her attentions briefly to Mr Knightley, making Emma realise she’s actually madly in love with him, but in the end, she ends up with the kindly (but lowly) farmer, Emma with Mr Knightley, and they all live happily ever after.
There is no Jane Fairfax character in Clueless, and Christian’s secret made me giggle. Very fitting with the times. That Cher’s Mr Knightley is her stepbrother probably sets off a few alarm bells, but they make it clear several times that they’re not really related at all, because Josh’s mum was married to Cher’s dad for a bit, but Mr Horowitz didn’t sire him. Still, it does feel a bit odd.
As a modern take on Emma, I think it works really well. Instead of early 1800s England, it’s mid-1990s Beverly Hills. Cher is probably more obnoxious than Emma Woodhouse, and I didn’t think Tai was as sympathetic as Harriet, but overall, it works. I probably saw this film back in the decade it was made, and thought it was okay, but seeing it now, when I’m familiar with the original, I can clearly see the similarities.
The dreadful mid-1990s fashion is ever present, of course, but Cher is quick to point out the horrors of her contemporaries. The look was terribly hip back then … not so much nowadays. Still, it’s fun to have a walk down memory lane. After all, in 1995, I officially became a teenager. That’s got to count for something.
As a film in its own right, I’m not sure it works all that well, though. I just don’t like Cher. I’m not keen on Emma either, to be honest, but while she’s shallow, she’s not quite as shallow and ditzy as Cher. Being a modern version of Jane Austen’s Emma makes Clueless work, sort of, but if it wasn’t for that, it would just be a very peculiar film about a bunch of spoiled teenagers, and those are ten to the dozen.
2.9 out of 5 skateboards.