My Favourite Films #32: Clueless

A lot of teen movies are just a bit average, but every now and then there’s one that really stands out, and this movie from 1995 is one of the best teen movies of all time.

Part of what makes it work is the decision to update Jane Austen’s Emma to a Beverly Hills high school, complete with plastic surgery, cell phones and with high school politics replacing the strict social conventions of Austen’s time.


Our heroine is Cher, played by Alicia Silverstone, in a performance which is pitched perfectly. Cher could easily be a bit of a shallow bimbo and just irritating, but Silverstone’s comic performance and sweetness means that you root for her, even when she’s being a bit of a dweeb. Cher is our narrator as well, which helps as we get to see more of what’s going on with her and which helps make some of her actions a bit softer and easier to take. Manipulating the lives of teachers to get better grades sounds awful, but the script makes Cher sympathetic throughout.

clueless silverstone

The movie follows Cher as she comes to realize that there’s more to life than looking good and being popular, and she develops into a better person.

For a kid in the UK the world of the movie was a world away from my own teenage years in South Wales, for starters it’s sunny for a lot of the movie, but it’s more than that, for a kid in the late 90s when I first saw this movie a cell phone was extremely glamorous, although they look boxy and old fashioned rewatching it now, and for female viewers there was the daydream factor, imagining how great it would be to live like Cher. The movie manages to mock the shallow LA lifestyle of the characters while also making it look cool and desirable.

clueless group

Amy Heckerling, the director, had already made a solid teen movie in the ’80s, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but for me this is the better movie, and her script sparkles, with dialogue that is sparky, fast paced and extremely witty in places. It’s also loaded with slang that meant nothing to me at the time.

I’ve rewatched this movie countless times, due to having three sisters, who loved it and who watched it so much that the sound on our VHS copy warped. But it didn’t matter, by then we’d memorized half the script and still loved it.

There are some classic lines dotted throughout and moments that still make me laugh out loud now.

I first saw it before I’d read or seen a version of Emma, but since reading the book the movie has actually improved for me, and I fully appreciate how clever the updating is. Just as the society of Austen’s time had rules and rituals which effected how you were viewed, the hierarchy of high school works in a similar way here, it’s a clever connection to make and works brilliantly.

The supporting cast are fantastic, especially Paul Rudd as Josh, the ex-step brother and love interest who helps Cher develop but who cares about her despite her superficial nature at the start. Rudd’s got easy charm in most of his movies and he’s quite cool here, even though his character is over earnest and awkward at times.

Silverstone and Rudd
Silverstone and Rudd

Another strength is Brittany Murphy as Tai, who is just hilarious as the dopey new girl who Cher takes under her wing, getting some of the best moments and being unbelievably cute at times.

Murphy as Tai: Dopey and cute
Murphy as Tai: Dopey and cute

Clueless works because it’s got a great plot, a fantastic central performance (Alicia Silverstone is so good and charismatic here I continue to be amazed that her career never moved up to the big leagues, and blame Batman and Robin for that) and a script that unlike lots of teen movies can appeal to lots of different audiences. My entire family loved this movie and rewatching it recently I was reminded of just how well done and funny it is. It’s a total gem of a movie.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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