How's this for damning with faint praise? The not-unpleasant Clueless is a triumph of not-quite mediocrity. Amy Heckerling's hit teen comedy is the sort of cute but ho-hum movie one keeps hoping will turn satirically sharper, but its goal is humble: to walk the line between bubblegum pop that indulges trends, and a halfhearted critique of shallowness. I don't think this is what feminists mean by "having it all," but isn't Alicia Silverstone cute?
For her Beverly Hills-set fairy tale, writer-director Heckerling consciously reimagines Jane Austen's Emma as the high-school adventure of fifteen-year-old Cher (Silverstone). Sassy and no stranger to the shops on Rodeo Drive, Cher has mastered Bronson Alcott High School (named for Louisa May's women's rights advocate dad) and upscale home life with single dad and high-priced lawyer Mel Horowitz (Dan Hedaya). Her father's daughter, Cher will settle for nothing less than total satsifaction, and she will talk or finagle her way to it by any means necessary. Case in point: when Cher feels she's been robbed of an "A" by a teacher (Wallace Shawn) who's given up on life, her solution is to play matchmaker, tricking Mr. Hall and Miss Geist (Twink Caplan) into thinking they've found love with each other (as opposed to Cher finding it for them).
As a somewhat benign busybody, Cher happily plots with best friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) to keep all of the high-school ducks in a row. So when transfer student Tai (Brittany Murphy) arrives, it's time for a makeover and a crash course in clique culture. Playing goddess, Cher steers Tai from dumb but sweet stoner Travis Birkenstock (Breckin Meyer) and toward entitled insider Elton (Jeremy Sisto). The only source of exasperation Cher can't quite manage is her ex-stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd), perhaps because he's more concerned with a world beyond the six square miles occupied by the Hills, and with problems more global than what two people or pieces of clothing make for a perfect match.
Of course, Cher turns out to be much better at solving other people's problems, and it therefore takes her romantic sidetracks with Elton and the conspicuously fashionable Christian (Justin Walker), as well as nearly the entire running time of the film, to see what the audience immediately figures out: she's totally hot for her ex-stepbrother. The story's classical roots gives it a sturdy baseline, and Heckerling's light touch and likeable cast go a fair way toward making Clueless inoffensive entertainment. Yes, the bubbly Cher learns that meddling may not be the best policy and that, at any rate, she should deal with her own issues first, but the best high-school movies are a lot more subversive than this cutesy skip (it's not weighty enough to be called a "romp"). Give me Heathers or Mean Girls any day, where edge isn't just what the nice Hispanic man does to the bushes.
Paramount does a nice job of porting Clueless over to Blu-ray. The picture quality won't surprise anyone familiar with films of this vintage: the source is clean and grain remains intact, so there's little to complain about (some edge enhancement); the crucial colors are vibrant, and detail and texture impress. Likewise, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix makes the most of the elements, with clear dialogue and robust music, as well as palpable immersion with a steady rollout of ambient effects.
The bonus features offer a mix of fluff and interesting behind-the-scenes content. Clue or False Trivia Game (HD) is an interactive pop-up track posing questions to viewers. Um, as if!
A much better place to start is "The Class of '95" (18:31, SD), which examines casting with director Amy Heckerling, director of photography Bill Pope, associate producer/actress Twink Caplan, casting director Marcia Ross, and cast members Breckin Meyer, Brittany Murphy, Stacy Dash, Donald Faison, Paul Rudd, Dan Hedaya, Justin Walker and Alicia Silverstone. Yet more intriguing is "Creative Writing" (9:39, SD) gets into the project's inspirations and development with Heckerling, Pope and Caplan.
Things skew back to the superficial, though relevant, with "Fashion 101" (10:46, SD)—which finds costume designer Mona May, Heckerling, Caplan, makeup designer Alan Friedman and cast members discussing the film's costumes—and "Language Arts" (8:09, SD), focusing on the film's unique slang.
In "Suck 'N Blow: A Tutorial" (2:47, SD) Silverstone and Sisto lead the class. "Driver's Ed" (3:49, SD) examines the filming of the two key driving scenes, while "We're History" (8:52, SD) wraps up with thoughts on the film and its legacy. Rounding out the disc are the film's "Teaser Trailer" (1:59, HD) and "Theatrical Trailer" (2:39, HD).
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