July 21, 1995 in Seven

Even Without Plot, ‘Clueless’ Likeable

Rene Rodriguez Miami Herald
 

Ah, to be filthy rich, drop-dead gorgeous and young. Those conditions are as common as designer water bottles and colorcoordinated cell phones at Beverly Hills High School, the setting for “Clueless.”

It’s a school where students accessorize the bandages covering their recent nose jobs and cut class to binge at the mall. In these halls, teen angst is something that happens when your credit cards max out.

The most popular girl in school is Cher (Alicia Silverstone), a bubbly 15-year-old princess who believes Kuwait is somewhere in the Valley, thinks “Ren & Stimpy” are “way existential,” learned her “Hamlet” from the Mel Gibson movie and is still “hymenally challenged” despite the cavalcade of boys falling at her feet.

The problem is, Cher likes to date older men: “Searching for a boy in high school is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie,” she declares. So instead of chasing guys at school, she uses her social skills to play matchmaker between lonely-heart teachers and to give a new girl a complete makeover. After all, Cher explains to her best friend, “don’t ‘you’ want to use your popularity for a good cause?”

“Clueless” is that rare breed of high school comedy that gently skewers its adolescent subjects while harboring a knowing affection for their plight. It is a bright, upbeat film without a single villain: Though some characters are more likable than others, all have decent hearts beating within, and all are struggling with insecurity in their own fashion.

This being Beverly Hills, that fashion will seem rather extraordinary to most viewers, and that’s where “Clueless” gets much of its humor. Unlike in, say, “Beverly Hills 90210,” which takes its characters’ affluence for granted, writer-director Amy Heckerling milks the abundant wealth here to great effect, making it easy for havenots to laugh at the haves.

There is much terrific writing in “Clueless:” The slang these California kids use borders on another language - “Isn’t my house ‘classic?”’ “Isn’t my mom ‘Betty?”’ - yet it’s somehow instantly understandable. As she did in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Heckerling shows an understanding of today’s youth beyond the superficial. The emotions between the gags ring true.

She’s blessed by a sparkling cast headed by Silverstone, of Aerosmith music video fame. She charms and disarms: Cher might not be the brightest girl, but she certainly means well, and Silverstone reflects her lack of vanity or self-awareness. It’s hard to say yet whether Silverstone has much acting range, but here she certainly has that rarefied glow.

Just as good are Stacey Dash as Cher’s best pal Dionne (“She’s my friend because we both know what it’s like for people to be jealous of us,” says Cher), Justin Walker as Christian, the hunky new student for whom Cher falls head over designer heels, and Dan Hedaya as Cher’s mad-dog lawyer father (“Anything happens to my daughter,” he tells Christian before he takes Cher out on a date, “I’ve got a .45 and a shovel. I doubt anyone would miss you.”).

The milieu is so radiant, it doesn’t really matter that “Clueless” has no plot, or that the film occasionally might go over the heads of its intended teen audience. It’s a likable lark, a wonderful surprise in the middle of a thus-far so-so summer.

xxxx “Clueless” Location: East Sprague, North Division and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Credits: Directed by Amy Heckerling, starring Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd, Donald Faison, Elisa Donovan, Breckin Meyer, Jeremy Sisto, Justin Walker Rating: PG-13


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