When Amy Heckerling’sÂ Clueless premiered in 1995, throngs of pre-adolescents crowded theaters to see Alicia Silverstone and her wacky-but-privileged gang of Beverly Hills friends navigate the challenges of high school. There were best gal pals, and arch nemeses. Driver’s Ed became very real during a run-in with the LA freeway. And teenage love wasn’t to be dismissed as ‘lacking direction.’
To me, a budding homosexual, the film had a lasting effect in that I so desperately wanted to be Cher Horowitz. She was popular and smart, and dressed impeccably for a 15-year old. And, she was selective, not like the popular slutty girls I went to school with (I believe I came into full obsess mode several years after its initial debut). Cher had a ‘managing up’ relationship with her father, and enjoyed goading her older (ex!) stepbrother, who was already in college. Paul Rudd’s attractiveness in that role did not hurt the fantasy of being in Cher’s Fendi heels.
Cher Horowitz taught me many things that still define much of my 90s upbringing and views on life. Allow me to explain.
- Clueless gave me, and many of my friends, a vernacular that we could rally around. It was foreign enough to be cool, but understandable enough to not seem obscure (e.g. “AS IF!” “I’m outtie” “Nice stems!”). I still use “riding the crimson wave” to describe my and my friends’ monthly mood swings and excuse for showing up late to meetings.
- Clueless taught me that cell phones would become an essential fashion accessory. Beepers lasted for all of five minutes, but since they’re inception, cellular telephones have morphed from function to fashion and back again.
- Clueless made me appreciate malls. The Westside Pavilion makes a cameo appearance after one of Cher’s less than stellar days at school. It’s where she buys enough to fill a small car, and where Christian buys his James Dean/Jason Priestly leather jacket (that looked hot!).
- Clueless taught me that Burbank circa 1994 was the first instance of hipsters – namely the musical ones playing sets in empty warehouses to kids in loafers and jean jackets.
- On that note, Clueless gave me my essential knowledge of LA geography. Sun Valley is full of subdivisions, crime, and police helicopters (and isn’t close to Beverly Hills), no one worth knowing lives below Sunset Boulevard, and everywhere in LA takes twenty minutes.
- Clueless gave me my first taste of designer idolatry. Azzedine AlÃ¤ia, Calvin Klein. They sounded so exotic…which I knew meant expensive and exclusive, three concepts I’d not yet begun to appreciate at age 10. Fast forward 15 years…
- Outside of brands and labels, Clueless showed me a style vocabulary that was both coherent and outrageous. It was colorful, print-filled, and best defined as “shopping with Dr. Suess.” I understood it because it was preppy and feminine without being soft or wimpy. It was 90s power teen.
- Most of all, Clueless gave me new insight into diversity. Cher was white, her best friend black, rounded out by an Asian girl, hippie guy, white girl with auburn hair, black guy with braces, and tall skinny white guy. This was the California melting pot I’d heard about! Well, minus their families’ collective wealth and respectively small geographic distribution in the greater LA area.
So what if it’s nearly twenty years old. For those who consumed every inch of it in our prime ‘coming of age’ years, it remains a cult classic of an era we easily forget. In our current mindset of serious and politics and drab…why not enjoy a couple hours of teenage spirit and intelligent comedy set in sunny, go-go Southern California?
When is the next viewing?