Clueless (1995)

Clueless (1995)
Dir. Amy Heckerling
Starring: Alicia Silverstone, etc.

I’d recommend this to Mitchell, Penny, Tony and Jill. Generally, this is not my type of film, but it’s better than the typical film in the genre. A so-so pick for the 1001 book.

Silverstone plays Cher, a super rich teenager that sets up to help others find love. In the process, she starts falling in love with someone unexpectedly. This is an above average teen comedy. What makes it above average is the dialogue–filled with slang that supposedly became part of the American teen slang–and Silverstone’s performance. This is not the type of movie I usually enjoy, but I fount it surprisingly tolerable.

Recently, I’ve been seeing the success of a performance or character as a very collaborative process–mainly between the director, writer and actor (although editing, costumes and cinematography can be crucial). It’s hard to pinpoint who to credit or blame. However, I’m fairly confident that Alicia Silverstone deserves a lot of the success in creating a memorable “dumb blond”–one that should be mentioned whenever discussion of this archetype comes up. Her timing, delivery and vocal quality bring the dialogue to life and take it to another level. Yes, the dialogue has to be good and yes, the director could play a significant role in helping the actor find this character, but the bottom line is I can’t imagine many other people pulling off this role as well as Silverstone. She has a crazy combination of sex appeal, childlike-ness, cultured sophistication, plus the traditional “clueless” blond–and she makes it all work. I wasn’t cracking up, but I did chuckle and smile and many of her lines. She deserved an Academy Award nomination. (I looked up the other nominees: Susan Sarandon (won) Dead Man Walking; Elizabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas; Meryl Streep, Bridges of Madison County; Sharon Stone, Casino; Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility. I think Silverstone’s peformance was better than Stone or Thompson’s. I think Streep should have won. I think I would have picked Shue over Sarandon, too.)

Oh dear. First of all, I loved that Red Balloon film in elementary school. Most of us did. It was rather popular. So I am very interested in this movie

Second, while I thought Silverstone was TERRIFIC in Clueless, the only performance on that list of Oscar nominees hers topped is Sharon Stone. You could make a strong case for any of the other four to have won that award and I wouldn’t mind, but I certainly can’t find fault in Sarandon’s wonderful performance in that terrific film. I believe I was rooting for Shue to take it home, but as I say: Any of those four would have pleased me.

I liked Clueless mostly because, as you say, it definitely rises above other films in its genre. However, I disagree with calling Cher a dumb blonde. She may be something of an airhead, but the movie makes it plain that she’s a sharp girl and I think it suggests that what we consider dumb is in fact a different kind of smart. Gardner’s multiple intelligences would have pegged Cher as easily gifted in interpersonal intelligence, something a social misfit like me finds admirable. I am quite in awe of students with this kind of intelligence and I openly communicate my admiration.

Dan Hedaya (Nick Tortelli!), who plays Cher’s dad, is a great foil for her: He is obviously smart in certain ways (he’s enormously successful in business), but he’s not as bright as his daughter in interpersonal matters; in fact, nobody in the film is, and it is this disarming ability to see through the social complications around her that enables her to float with ease from one person’s problem to the next person’s problem. I also really like the relationship she shares with her father. It’s charming and interesting and sweet.

This is one of those rare films that, I think, actually rises above others in its genre so that it’s not really part of that genre. I’m not saying it’s a GREAT film, because it really isn’t, but it’s unique. I would like to say that I’m completely uninfluenced by the fact that this is a modern literary adaptation, but I can’t honestly say that and I’ve been up-front about that elsewhere on VI: I do like my literary adaptations. 🙂 And no, I haven’t read the source material. Are you kidding? The Victorians drive me up a tree!

I did say that Silverstone’s performance was better than Stone, and I also added Thompson’s. (Actually, I can’t remember her performance, which is saying something.) Streep was terrific and so was Shue, who made the cliched “hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold” compelling. I thought Sarandon was good, but not outstanding–not as good as the other two. But Silverstone’s performance deserves to be up there because her character is unique take on the dumb blond archetype–which I still contend she falls under. And, as I mentioned, I can’t see many other actors pulling off the character in the same way she did.

I don’t know how long it’s been since you’ve seen this, but she’s superficial and says some inane things in this film–all of which is part of the dumb blonde archetype. Yet, she’s well-educated and actually smart in an academic sense, at least in some things. For example, she corrects her step-brother’s girlfriend who insists Hamlet says, “To thine own self be true”–although she knows this because she knows all of Mel Gibson’s movies. There’s also other scenes where she displays an academic intelligence. Yet, she can still mess up pronouncing words like Haitian, which she pronounces, Hay-tee-uns. (Btw, Silverstone pronounced it this way thinking this was the correct pronunciation, and Heckerling made sure no one on the set changed this.)

I also disagree with the suggestion that the filmmakers were saying she had interpersonal intelligence, especially as a way of establishing that she’s not a “dumb-blond.” For one thing, the match-making she does, as in getting the two teachers together, are silly. It felt like one of those ridiculous events that Hollywood films employ to elicit cheap laughs. Also, her match-making doesn’t always work. Finally, she’s “clueless” about her on attraction to her step-brother.

Anyway, I think Silverstone is good in this, and she makes the film.

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