Clueless is arguably one of the most well known films of the 90’s, and though it’s next to impossible to select a single best movie of the decade (c’mon, they’re all so good), Clueless is probably my personal favourite.
Clueless, having been released smack dab in the middle of the decade, represents the 90’s perfectly. The fashion, the L.A. obsession, the attitude, the trends - everything! It’s also a movie with a story that’s timeless. Even those born in the 2000’s can watch and enjoy - maybe even relate to on some levels. It’s a story not unique to the film industry (the typical high school girl coming of age) but at the time, it was one of the first films of this kind that paved the way for movies such as Legally Blonde or Mean Girls, all of which focused on girls, wealthy in popularity but seemingly dumb, only to evolve throughout the film’s story to find themselves in the pursuit of ambition.
If you haven’t seen Clueless yet then what the heck are you doing here?? Go watch it!! Because what I’ve written below is an analysis on the film. Spoiler alert!
The film opens with the Kim Wilde song “We’re The Kids in America” supporting a montage of the students of Bronson Alcott High School partying and having fun without a care in the world. Clueless takes place in Beverly Hills, not surprising as L.A. was perhaps the pinnacle of 90’s culture. This was likely linked to it being the hub for all pop and media, as well as it being characterized as beachy, sunny, polished, and pink - 90’s ethos in a nutshell. Nearly every film or TV show at the time was set in L.A. or at the very least, California. In all of its cameo appearances, L.A. was a necessary cast member. Clueless takes Beverly Hills and almost exaggerates everyone’s imagination of it. The houses are big. The families are rich. The people are gorgeous. The shopping is incredible and so is the fashion. And high school seems to be the most important thing in the world.
Cher Horowitz is an adorable character. She’s a poster child for the 90’s. You can’t help but love the naiveté of Alicia Silverstone in this role. Cher is a daddy’s girl and lives in a Beverly Hills mansion, much like the rest of her friends. Her native tongue is valley girl, adorned by her iconic catchphrase “as if!” Her favourite hobby is shopping and she has a funky 90’s computer program of her closet that let’s her virtually pick out her outfits (honestly, why isn’t this a thing yet?) She’s one of the prettiest, most popular, adored people in school (have you seen her hair??). She’s always well groomed and has some of the best 90’s outfits you’ve ever seen. Cher doesn’t have her drivers license yet (even though her daddy gave her a Jeep convertible) and she’s actually a terrible driver.
Through most of the film, she’s portrayed as being kind of ditzy, spoiled, superficial, and superior. However, her intelligence and kindness comes out in less than conventional ways. Cher has a good heart and she’s observant. She’s incredibly determined to get her way and can talk her way out of any situation through charm. She’s also a good friend and takes it on herself to help those around her. The evolution of Cher as a teenage character is inspiring - she breaks away from this cosmetic, popular, teenage girl to eventually understand herself and on a deeper level, realize that what she wants is more than just high school celebrity status. She goes on an altruistic quest to help the people around her that she seems to believe are less fortunate than her, only to discover that she doesn’t need to change people to be something they’re not. She begins to see the beauty in the people around her when they’re just being themselves.
Part of the film’s comedy is attributed to its hyperbole of some well known clichés. Cher and her BFF Dionne are classic examples of popular girly-girls, with Amber being their enemy. Dionne’s boyfriend Murray is the epitome of someone obsessed with 90’s rap and hip hop culture. Tai represents a few tropes throughout the film: the new girl, the lost cause, the nerd, the result of the makeover, all while being a character of the grunge style that was so trendy during the early half of the 90’s. Christian plays the mysterious high school dream boat, only later to be outed as gay, Elton is the big creep (!!!), while Josh is the best friend that’s been the love interest all along.
Just have a look for yourself.
Clueless is based off of Jane Austen’s novel Emma, with the title character of Emma being the headstrong, charismatic, meddling cupid that Cher was inspired by. The main characters in the film also have their counterparts in the novel. It’s a story of hubris, a mess of romances, social status and youth culture. Both Emma and Clueless toy with elements of parody, poking fun at the young and their trivialities of being a teenager.
Fundamentally, Clueless is an incredibly powerful tale for women and is an exceedingly important discussion in today’s climate. The topic of sex and virginity during the 90’s was still quite taboo, yet somehow still exploited. Cher, Tai, and Dionne all share their sexual experiences, each a little bit different. Admitting to being a virgin in high school is almost the equivalent to being a self-declared loser - isn’t that so ridiculous? Cher, despite her popularity and sometimes promiscuity, has yet to have had sex and one of the best thing the film has done is tell everyone out there that that’s okay. She treasures herself and knows her worth, and even in the slimy moment that she’s pressured by that creep Elton, she reminds herself of who she is and firmly says “No!” The sexualization of women had certainly evolved from pop culture in the 90’s, and there’s many examples of that, but it’s touching to see these utterly innocent and authentic examples of kids having real feelings about sex. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be reluctant. It’s okay to be celibate. It’s okay to be sexually active. The message here is to know your worth.
Clueless gathers the different stereotypes in high school and brings forth a unity, highlighting the fact that no one woman (or person) is better than the other. It also defends the role of the popular girl, which in many films is depicted as a bully, mean girl, or slut. If these movies were to take a further lens on the bully, they might understand more about them and why they act the way they do. In many cases, they’re misrepresented and thus misunderstood. Clueless encourages girls to be supportive of each other, and not nasty and competitive, even if they have visible differences. It speaks of loyalty, friendship, and individuality. Women who like to dress up and wear make-up shouldn’t be put down as “lesser women” who are products of the patriarchy. Women should have the choice to be who they want to be and not be afraid of the judgment of others. There shouldn’t be different levels of women or feminists. We’re all on the same team. And I speak mostly of women because it’s a movie about female friendships, but the concept of treating everyone as an equal isn’t something that is exclusive to one gender.
So the next time you think about judging somebody - as if! It’s probably time for a reality check!