Nostalgia Fact-Check: Clueless

I got this idea from NY Mag’s Vulture blog that devotes this Summer to revisit seminal movies, TV shows and albums that we think were so cool way back when, mostly when we were teenagers and thus they marked an important period of our lives. So far, Vulture has fact-checked a few nostalgia movies, TV shows and albums: Heathers, Ally McBeal, Ace of Base’s The Sign, Ghostbusters and Dinosaurs. Since this is a really great idea to get through the long hot Summer, I thought I’d follow suit and do my own version of Nostalgia Fact-Check. Since I’m a child of the nineties, I graduated high school in 1997 (eek, I’m old!), I thought I’m going to do a Nostalgia Fact-Check only on movies (I don’t exactly get paid to do this so I can’t exactly devote all my time and resources) of the 90s that I thought was “the best thing ever!”, as Vulture so aptly puts it. I just saw Clueless again after so many years two weeks ago, and I thought it’d be appropriate to start with the movie of my generation.

Clueless, written and directed by Amy Heckerling, is a modern-day adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, and the movie that skyrocketed Alicia Silverstone’s career. Heckerling took the world of Austen’s Emma and set it in 1995’s Beverly Hills, with Silverstone as Cher, the peppy, superficial, well-meaning but ultimately clueless heroine who (according to IMDB description) “spends her days playing match-maker, helping her friends with fashion choices, and looking for a boyfriend.” The premise may sound ridiculous today, but the great thing about this movie is that it is meant to be ridiculous. In hipster speak, it is meant to be ironic. But despite the ridiculousness of the premise, in terms of great teen flicks of the nineties, this one totally holds up and still enjoyable to watch even in today’s internet age.

Sure, a lot (okay, all) of the pop culture references now seem pretty dated, like Paul Rudd’s character Josh’s snark about Cher’s world being “Contempo casual” or Cher openly admitting that she’s a fan of Mel Gibson in this entertaining dialogue:

Heather: It’s just like Hamlet said, “To thine own self be true.”

Cher: Hamlet didn’t say that.

Heather: I think I remember Hamlet accurately.

Cher: Well, I remember Mel Gibson accurately, and he didn’t say that. That Polonius guy did.

But the comedy itself still pretty much holds up in today’s world. In fact, it is significantly better than most teen comedies that have come out after the internet age. And yes, the fact that Cher, who’s only 16, ends up (spoiler alert) with Josh, her ex-stepbrother who’s already in college and is (I think) at least 20, may seem a little icky now, but the way the romance unfolds is still fun to watch and it is both believable and feels earned, unlike most romances in today’s romcoms. And besides, it’s not like the movie ends with Cher losing her virginity to Josh.

Clueless is tongue-in-cheek funny, satirizing both the superficiality of 90s teenage lifestyle and the cluelessness of our (okay, my) generation, but at the heart of it, just like the novel that inspired the movie, it’s sweet and has a good message without being preachy. And let’s face it, we all want a closet like Cher’s.

The one thing that made this movie a little hard to watch is Brittany Murphy. It’s not that she wasn’t great in it (she was the best part), but because her life ended so tragically and it was hard to see her as this wide-eyed, impressionable new girl in school, eager to earn her friends’ approval. She had such talent and potential, it was such a shame that her life had to end so soon.

But if you put that aside for a moment, I’m sure you will enjoy this movie just as much as I do, even if you are not a member of my generation. Aside from Alicia Silverstone and Brittany Murphy, this movie also stars a young and pre-Scrubs Donald Faison, Paul Rudd, Stacey Dash, Jeremy Sisto and the great Wallace Shawn, who kids today probably only knows as Blair Waldorf’s stepdad Cyrus Rose in Gossip Girl.

In closing, Clueless as a movie, totally holds up in today’s world and it is worth to be called “a classic”. Also, “as if” totally needs to make a comeback.

Movie of the new millennium that equals Clueless’ greatness: Easy A (2010)

In 1995, Alicia Silverstone was the next big thing, and today, we can say the same about Easy A’s leading lady Emma Stone, though I do hope that she has better luck career-wise than Alicia Silverstone. Easy A is not exactly like Clueless but it does remind me of Clueless in some ways, because of these similarities:

– It is also based on a great classic (Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter) though in Easy A’s case it’s more “inspired by” than actual modern-day adaptation.

– Emma Stone’s Olive Penderghast, unlike Silverstone’s Cher, is whip-smart, witty, wise beyond her age, but like Cher in Clueless, her life turns into a mess after she tries to help out a friend.

– Penn Badgley is no Paul Rudd, but his character possesses the same charm and sweetness as Rudd’s.

– Just like Clueless, it has totally awesome lines and I think it kind of captures today’s generation the way Clueless did in the 90s.

– In ten or fifteen years, maybe some other blogger will do a nostalgia fact-check on Easy A.

– Alicia Silverstone went on to star in Batman & Robin after Clueless, and Emma Stone is in the new Spider-Man movie. For Stone’s sake, let’s hope The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t become the atrocity that was Batman & Robin.

And there you go, my first “Nostalgia Fact-Check”. I shall do another in the near future. Next up: Cruel Intentions (1999). It was shocking and awesomely bad back then, but in today’s Gossip Girl world, maybe it will actually hold up? We’ll see. Till then, awesome people of the internet.

Special thanks to NY Magazine’s Vulture for inspiring me with this idea.

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