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CLUELESS

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 24, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Although ‘Clueless’ was a surprise box-office hit 25 summers ago, it wasn’t really my cup of tea. Yes, I was getting old then. I’m really old now. But raunchy is raunchy, although I recognize that teens of that generation embraced it big-time and no doubt would love to revisit it, hence this 25th anniversary Blu-ray reissue from Paramount Home Entertainment. My review was published on July 19, 1995.

High school has certainly changed since I was a kid. The worst thing I had to worry about was the school bully stealing my milk money.

According to "Clueless," however, high school life revolves around social contacts, nose jobs, cell phones and beepers, sex, drugs and attending the mall for spiritual supplication.

"Clueless" is a comedy, of course, though adults in the audience (who will be there only if they have wandered into the wrong auditorium) may cringe from time to time. But there are some amusing gags, and the charming cast is more than capable.

Chief among the film's assets is Alicia Silverstone, a gifted young actress who has shown quite a bit of range in her previous films … though the films themselves have been pretty awful ("The Crush," "Hideaway").

Tackling farce for the first time, she proves herself equally adept at comedy, turning in a hilarious performance as Cher, a rich, smart 15-year-old whose spoiled, materialistic outlook on life is rather warped, to say the least.

       

Stacey Dash, left, Alicia Silverstone, Brittany Murphy, ‘Clueless’ (1995)

Cher's best friend is Dionne (Stacey Dash). "We're both named after great singers from the past who now do infomercials," Cher boasts. They are also at the top of their Beverly Hills high school social register and intend to keep it that way.

But when a new girl moves in, rumpled, ill-at-ease Tai (Brittany Murphy), who hails from the East Coast, Cher decides to take her under her wing as a selfless act. She'll give Tai a makeover and try to match her up with a popular boy in school. She never dreams that Tai's popularity will eventually eclipse her own.

Cher also plays matchmaker for a pair of teachers, Mr. Hall and Miss Geist (Wallace Shawn, Twink Caplan), though her motives here are far from altruistic. The daughter of a tough litigator (Dan Hedaya), Cher has successfully argued-up all of her grades except one — and she reasons that if Mr. Hall becomes happier, he'll be less rigid. (Two very funny scenes involve Cher arguing about whether Haitians should be allowed in the United States and violence in the media in Mr. Hall's debate class.)

Another major subplot has Cher coming to realize her true feelings for her ex-stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd), a college student who has come to stay with them for a while.

       

Whether a movie aimed at teens should encourage romance between step-siblings — even former step-siblings — is up for debate. But the film's cavalier suggestions that casual sex is perfectly acceptable for 15-year-olds and that smoking marijuana is fine as long as it's at a party. are extremely irresponsible. (Cher is ridiculed for never having had sex, and when she flunks her driver's test, Tai gives her the ultimate insult: "You're a virgin who can't drive!")

As a result, "Clueless" itself seems rather clueless.

Writer-director Amy Heckerling ("Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "Look Who's Talking") is hardly a pillar of taste but here she seems particularly off the mark. Even the gay community is likely to frown on her stereotypical treatment of homosexual characters.

And yet Heckerling does provide a number of solid laughs, and the Shawn-Caplan romance is sweet and funny. And she had the good sense to cast Silverstone as her lead player.

Too bad she doesn't rely more on the instincts that brought these elements into play for the rest of the film.

"Clueless" is rated PG-13 for violence, vulgarity, profanity and drugs.