Musings on Clueless – random observations on the iconic 90s movie 20 years later

CluelessPoster So apparently Clueless just hit its 20th anniversary this month, as suddenly there are a plethora of references on from the movie all over social media. In fact, my hubby was perplexed by some of them as he hadn’t seen it before. So we thought, why not watch the movie Friday night since it’s on Netflix streaming. To be honest, neither my hubby and I are into high school movies. I mean, of course I enjoyed John Hughes movies when I was actually still in high school, and occasionally there are good ones from the genre, like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek them out. I can’t remember when I saw Clueless, but it must’ve been at least a decade ago. My memory of it is a bit hazy so it felt like seeing the movie for the first time.

So what’s the verdict?

Well, for one thing he didn’t hate it. He said it actually didn’t make him cringe as he had feared, and overall it was enjoyable. I mean, for one thing the movie is hysterical! The movie obviously didn’t take itself seriously and made fun of the characters’ own preposterousness but yet it’s not mean-spirited that it’d leave a sour taste in your mouth. Cher’s driving test scene alone is a hoot… Cher-Driving-Test-Clueless …but her BFF is an even worse driver, which made for one of the funniest scenes in the movie! a95f5745222c63b9668c36e1cd2186fb When my hubby and I discussed it afterwards, we were wondering about, because neither of us went to high school in the US, was whether teenagers actually spoke like that back in the 90s as they seem to still have that same speaking style now. The constant use of the word ‘like’ is practically like ‘as if’ and ‘whatever’ in the film, and even those are probably not entirely absent from teens’ vocabularies now as the movie still resonates to this day.

A Cultural Touchstone

I read this Vanity Fair article on the oral history of Clueless. Apparently the movie was a surprise hit back in 1995. The movie opened at No. 1 the weekend of its release on July 19, and went on to earn $56 mil in the US/Canada (a figure that the movie data-tracking site Box Office Mojo equates to $105.7 million in contemporary, inflated dollars). Not bad considering the budget was only $12 – $13 million. The movie definitely was a ‘cultural touchstone’, as EW pointed out in this article pondering what it’d be like if the movie’d been made today. Surely the age of selfies, social media and celebrity worship of today isn’t all that different from 20 years ago, and maybe that’s why the movie still resonates to this day. There are lots of gems in this movie that understandably become part of pop culture to this day. Ok so I’m not fond of Cher’s outfits but clearly it was a hit for teens as they raid the local malls for plaid skirts and knee-high socks. I went to an all-girl Catholic school and those were our uniform so I’d never ever want to wear those combo nor would I consider those fashionable. asif But the movie is so darn quotable with tons of hilarious lingo that will forever be associated with this movie.

Clueless_Terms
Source: Vanity Fair

Talk about great casting!

I can’t imagine anyone else but Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz, though the VF article did mention they were thinking of Reese Witherspoon at some point. Alicia’s goofy facial expressions alone is a hoot to watch, she has one of those expressive faces that you can’t take your eyes off. It was a no-holds-barred performance that to this day it’s impossible to separate Alicia from her breakout character. Cher was an inherently ridiculous and obviously flawed character but there’s something so sincere and straightforward about her, that she didn’t care what people think. It’s quite refreshing and amusing, that you quickly stop judging her and just accept her for who she is. I guess it’s the same thing that happens to Cher herself in how she comes to terms with the people in her life. 

Cher_gum

The supporting cast was equally fun to watch, and they’re pretty racially diverse which is pretty progressive for the time. The fact that the non-white characters, are in the same social class as the white, blond, rich protagonist would be considered progressive even by today’s standards. Dionne (Stacey Dash) and her boyfriend Murray (Donald Faison) are both black, but both are equally as popular as Cher in school and there are also some Asian American girls in Cher’s social circle. It’s sad that Brittany Murphy is no longer with us, her portrayal of Tai is just as entertaining and iconic.

Tai_BrittanyMurphy

And of course there’s Paul Rudd as Cher’s stepbrother Josh. The VF article talked about how he almost didn’t get to play Josh as he took another role (Halloween movie) and had his head shaved. Thankfully it ended up being a long journey to cast that particular role and casting director Marcia Ross said ‘he never went out of consciousness.’

PaulRuddJosh

It’s funny too that the same month this movie turns 20 years old, the 46-year-old Paul Rudd is a bonafide superhero himself with Ant-Man, and he still hasn’t aged a day!! Need proof? Just take this Vulture quiz and see if you can guess how old he is from certain photos. If they made this movie today, Rudd could still totally play Josh!

Cher_Josh

Why the movie was sort of ahead of its time… and culturally-relevant to this day

As Jane Austen’s work still resonates even two hundred years later, it’s not surprising that writer/director Amy Heckerling was inspired by Emma, the novel she read as a teenager. The plot/characters/themes and values are all based on Austen’s novel, as Emma too was clueless about her own feelings and the business of match-making. But like the Austen heroine, deep down she’s a good person and her heart was in the right place. I love stories where the protagonist actually evolves throughout the course of the film. In her own cute and endearing way, Cher had some growing up lessons and disappointments just like the rest of us, she just had better more expensive clothes to go through them in. For how beautiful and privileged she is, Cher is surprisingly relatable. I mean who hasn’t fawned over a guy and make a complete fool of herself? cher_seducing_christian I thought it was interesting that they made Cher a virgin, which was rare then and still rare now amongst teens. The movie touched upon serious issues about chastity/abstinence but they didn’t make her someone who’s holier-than-thou kind of character. It’s just another thing that made Cher unique, so the issue wasn’t done in a preachy way. clueless-like-its-a-bad-thing clueless-cher-picky-about-shoes1 You’d think that this movie is all style and no substance, but that’s actually no the case. As this Grantland article points out, despite the fact that the protagonist and her friends are all rich, “…the movie’s messages are anti-capitalist: Money can’t buy you love, and caring about other people is cool.” Thanks partly to Josh, Cher realized her own ignorance and prejudices and genuinely made an effort to make a difference by volunteering and donating her stuff. She didn’t just think differently, but she actually took action and do something about it. And she does it all by still being herself, which in and of itself is quite inspiring. clueless_cher1 There’s also the genuinely heartfelt father/daughter relationship throughout the movie. Dan Hedaya is perfect as the workaholic dad who’s tough but yet loving. Heck, raising a girl like Cher as a single dad can’t be easy but somehow they made it through, and there’s a sweet moment towards the end that show they have a pretty good relationship. It’s also another proof that Cher isn’t a heartless creature as she actually takes care of her own dad. DanHedaya Buzzfeed calls Clueless the best movie of all times and they sure made a compelling argument with all those hilarious gifs. I wouldn’t go that far, but I wouldn’t argue its special place in our pop culture and that it’d probably be iconic even a decade from now. Glad I saw this again. Certainly a movie worth revisiting and if you haven’t seen this yet, well, give it a shot. You’d be surprised how much you’d enjoy it!


Have you seen Clueless? What do you think of this movie?

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37 thoughts on “Musings on Clueless – random observations on the iconic 90s movie 20 years later

  1. I have seen Clueless as I saw it with my younger sister in a movie theater. They played Primus’ “Wynonna’s Big Brown Beaver” before the film which I enjoyed but my sister hated (then again, she never had good taste in music or films). We both enjoyed the film as it amazes me that it’s still popular and Paul Rudd is ageless. I also liked the soundtrack in that film. Especially for the acoustic version of “Fake Plastic Trees” by Radiohead.

    1. Ahah, I take it she’s your younger sister? I was amazed Clueless is still popular but after rewatching it, I understood its appeal. Yeah it’s nuts how Rudd hasn’t aged a day, he’s like Keanu Reeves, wonder what fountain of youth they’ve been drinking from!

  2. Blast from the past!! I haven’t seen this since it came on TV, I probably didn’t get at least 50% of it. Hmm I think I might watch it again. Great post Ruth!!

  3. Paul S

    I came to this film as ‘an Austen adaptation’, very late in the day, so I didn’t have the baggage of having seen it as a teenager. I was pleasantly surprised to find Clueless to be sharp, funny, and satirical, and it didn’t hurt that Alicia was very reminiscent me of the young Meg Ryan.

    1. Hi Paul! I’m quite familiar w/ Austen work so I recognized it right away. You’re right, there’s a bit of Meg Ryan in Alicia, even her hair is similar to hers in Sleepless in Seattle!

  4. abbiosbiston

    Aww I love this movie. I was about 15 when it came out so I remember seeing it in the cinema and thinking it was the essence of cool.

    1. I honestly can’t remember if I saw this on the big screen or not. I might have as I think I was in high school when I saw it [yes I’m THAT old]. I just remember laughing a lot, but I didn’t realize the cultural significance until later.

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  6. I actually love Clueless. Thought that it was my teen mind (saw the series too), but when I saw it again couple of months ago I still thought it’s a good movie. I think it was because all the 90s culture plus Cher’s basically a kind person. How ageless Paul Rudd is? He’s still hangin around for 20 years

    1. Yeah I think the characters are generally likable despite their flaws. It’s really a fun and hilarious movie that don’t take itself too seriously. Yeah Paul Rudd is incredulously ageless but Alicia still looks pretty good nowadays too.

  7. Wow, I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since this movie came out! I was a junior in high school and most of my classmates saw it. I didn’t see it until a couple of years later, around that time I refuse to watch any “teen” related movies and only watched all the “important” films by the likes of Tarantino, Coppola, Spielberg, Scorsese and so on. When I finally saw it, I really liked it. It reminded of my high school even though the real high like that aren’t as diverse. I went to a more upper class high school and I’m one of the only 3 Asian kids in the entire class. The high school in this film is like the NYC of YOU’VE GOT MAIL, so basically a fantasy/Hollywood version where everyone is accepted and all got along. Oh only if that’s the reality we live in, ha ha!

    1. Hi Ted! Hey that’s cool you enjoyed this one. I’m with you that I never really gravitated to high school movies, there’s only a handful that I’ve seen in my lifetime. You’re right this is more of a *fantasy* high school as there’s barely any bullying going on which is very unrealistic.

  8. All I know is that we have super computers that fit into the palm of our hands and yet we still don’t have a computerised wardrobe that can pick out our outfits.

  9. Really great post, Ruth! I LOVE Clueless. The casting, as you noted, is so on point and the script is fantastic. Yes, I went to all-girl catholic school too, and I still wore the Cher uniform outside of school…it was the 90s…meh…haha

    1. Thanks Courtney for reading. I felt compelled to write a post on it as the movie celebrates girl power but in a whimsical and sweet way. Ahah well sometimes I had to wear the plaid uniform outside of school too when I was still a teen, but once I started college I rarely wore plaid skirts anymore. Well at least not with knee-high socks 😉

  10. Sunday evening, I think I’m going to have a date with Clueless! It’s been far too long since I watched it and reading this has made me want to rewatch it.

    You’ve raised some interesting points that I think I didn’t notice at the time – i.e. the fact that the casting is racially diverse. It was progressive in many ways.

    It also shows that Paul Rudd hasn’t aged in the slightest!

    1. Hi Claire! Oh you should rewatch it, I’m glad I did. Yeah, now that I think about it, the film certainly had a lot of forward-thinking elements. Not surprised it was directed by a woman right? 😉 And yes, Paul Rudd looks basically the same now, 20 yrs later!

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  12. Love this post Ruth. I enjoyed this one in the 90s and it’s still my favourite film. The fashion hasn’t aged well but I remember craving those outfits at the time. Knee-high socks were so in style!

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