Clueless (1995)TWITTER/JOHNEBERLEJR

This summer marked the 25th anniversary of Clueless, the iconic coming-of-age film directed by Amy Heckerling. Infused with an undeniably 90’s ambience, it is, nonetheless, still one of the most popular teen films of the 21st century. Could we ever forget Clueless? Ugh, as if!

Clueless (1995)TWITTER/FRANTOPAZ

What makes this product of 90’s culture resistant to the passage of time? How can it still appeal to audiences today? The answer to these questions is simple: Cher Horowitz. The protagonist of the film is the driving force behind it, the one guiding the action and transforming a teenage movie into a cult film because, let’s not forget, “Cher’s main thrill in life is a makeover”.

“What is significant about this film however [...] is its abundant allusions to cultural icons, starting with its mirroring and slight parodying of Emma.”

The storyline is fairly straightforward. It follows the actions of a young American teenage girl and her life in high school, along with her love troubles, her relationship with her ex-stepbrother and eventual love interest, and a predictable – but enchanting – makeover to the new girl in school. What is significant about this film however, distancing it form other young adult productions, is its abundant allusions to cultural icons, starting with its mirroring and slight parodying of Emma. Jane Austen’s character is an equally beautiful, rich, and spoilt young woman. Her mother, like Cher’s, died when she was young, and they both take good care of their fathers. Perhaps most importantly, they both believe that they’re always right, and take it upon themselves to act as matchmakers, while vowing never to be in a relationship themselves (note Cher’s comparison of high school boys to dogs: “you have to clean them and feed them. They’re just like these nervous creatures that jump and slobber all over you”).

Clueless (1995)TWITTER/FRANTOPAZ

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Other characters and plot events coincide between both works, but there’s always a slight modernising twist in Clueless that renders its plunge into literary culture light-hearted and amusing. As a film that doesn’t seem to take itself very seriously, the references to cultural icons observed on the scale of plot and character are extended to Cher’s own observations of the world around her. For instance, she describes her nemesis as a Monet, claiming that “from far away, it’s O.K. Up close, it’s a big old mess”. The appeal of such parodying lies in the fact that it is always made from a position of respect to the works alluded to, acknowledging that a teenage film can hardly aspire to be part of the same artistic and cultural canon, but achieving, nonetheless, to reflect an awareness of its own position as a cultural artefact and to suggest the potential of its genre to engage with similar plots and themes as canonical works of Western art.

“The iconic yellow plaid skirt suit, the Calvin Klein mini-dress [...] are only a few of the garments that add up to create what could be considered the second protagonist: fashion.”

The unique outfits worn by Cher and her best friend Dionne can be said to contribute to Clueless’ self-presentation as a film potentially aspiring towards higher artistic models. The iconic yellow plaid skirt suit, the Calvin Klein mini-dress, and the unforgettable leotard Cher casually wears for her workouts are only a few of the garments that add up to create what could be considered the second protagonist: fashion. The ingenuity of headbands, tights, and crisp shirts is juxtaposed with the vibrant suggestion of sexuality of the red Alaïa party dress much in the same way that extremes exist within a character who is capable of innocently stating that her house is classic for dating “all the way back to 1972”, and who is equally able to sort out the love lives of her adult teachers.

It’s undeniable that Clueless still engages audiences today as it did in 1995, the question now is: will it survive another 25 years intact? I know what I think.

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