The comedy classic’s steelbook is a bit of a Betty!
As if! It’s not easy being the most popular and glamorous girl at Beverly Hills High. Especially when you’re the envy of scheming Betties (female babes), persistent Barneys (unattractive guys), and teachers who go postal (freak out) when you turn your homework in late! Yet somehow 15-year-old Cher (Alicia Silverstone) keeps it all together, even finding time for extracurricular projects like finding a love match for her debate class teacher (Wallace Shawn), and giving a dowdy friend (Brittany Murphy) a fashion makeover. But Cher’s tidy world starts to unravel with the sudden appearance of two total Baldwins (hunks): a sexy and stylish new classmate (Justin Walker), and Cher’s square but cute “ex-stepbrother” (Paul Rudd). Now Cher is about to learn that when it comes to love, she’s …well, Clueless.
The makeover has been used to drive various transformative or reflective arcs over the years sometimes effective, sometimes leaving a rather unsavory taste. Often deployed on a man’s terms or wants, think The Breakfast Club or perhaps most egregiously Sandy’s sleek getup at the end of Grease. Writer/director Amy Heckerling’s (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, European Vacation) effort goes deeper, while skewering both the trope it draws from, as well as offering a critique of the 90s consumerist driven and privileged lifestyle of Los Angeles teens. A modern-day spin of Jane Austen’s Emma, and as Emma Woodhouse molds Harriet Smith, so does Alicia Silverstone’s Cher take charge of Brittany Murphy’s new to school Tai, rinsing away the grunge and elevating her to fit in nicely with her own clique.
It’s a dismissive and regressive culture, where young women are expected to shop, dress, act, and even eat in a certain way. A grossly misaligned social construct that leaves women dis-empowered, unfulfilled, and in some cases, clueless. As Cher’s best friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) states of her need to dole out makeovers, “It gives her a sense of control in a world full of chaos”. Cher’s father (Dan Hedaya) has instilled in her a work ethic and approach to life rooted in legalities and technicalities with his background as a lawyer, something especially influential with the absence of a maternal figure. Brash and benevolent in equal measure, clearly dotes on his daughter, champions her, and expresses pride and protectiveness. The result is a young woman, persuasive and smart, but stymied by the society and culture around her, channeling her energies in ways that are not entirely progressive for herself and others. There is a purity to her intent, but she is shaping Tai to conform to image and expectation that has already been instilled into herself. The journey and experience holds up a mirror that results in an epiphany, self-discovery of what she wants from herself, from the world, and from a partner too, finally realizing that a fitting suitor was right in front of her all along, perhaps the one real concession to a teen fairytale ending. She’s notably assisted in this by a more worldly stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd) from one of her dad’s earlier marriages. Cher’s makeover ends up being internal, and on her own terms. Aspiring to more than feeding the modern capitalist driven era, recognising her inherent privilege, and opening up what is achievable as a result.
Heckerling smartly harkens back to how Jane Austen astutely worked in critiques of social inequality while entertaining with love triangles and whimsy. It all blends perfectly with the high-school setting. This Beverly Hills playground is a priveledged bubble where a disconnect from reality is effectively mined for comedy, as are the peculiarities of the characters enclosed in this ecosystem. The use of poised language is one of the reasons the film has firmly inserted itself into pop culture and the common vernacular, seemingly ditzy dialogue, rooted in literature, culture, and the arts (“Monet” as a perjorative for instance), this is balanced by teen-leaning low-brow humor (balls and noses). For it’s era, it feels almost progressive, giving attention to the lives and relationships of teens who are POC or LGBTQIA, all against a backdrop of stylish outfits, and an infectious soundtrack. So sure, watch and enjoy the bright colors, bold characters, and snappy, fun dialogue, but you’ll be better served by paying heed to the message to educate ourselves, broaden our horizons, and use what privilege we have to raise up others.
Clueless went and got a makeover! Well the packaging at least. A steelbook re-release inspired by one of the iconic outfits seen in the show. The yellow plaid schoolgirl uniform/Milan catwalk mashup worn by Cher exerts it’s pattern over the front and back, the lead herself blended into the front cover. Inside, the inlay looks like a scrapbook of Polaroids, showing stills from the film.
The disc and contents itself look to be a repackaging of an earlier release so if you nabbed that, bear it in mind when considering a repurchase. As it stands, the transfer here is pretty solid. Detail is good, colors vivid, and a good amount of grain and texture is represented. There are some issues with compression here and there, but nothing too egregious. There is a surprisingly healthy amount of extra features included:
- Clue or False Trivia Game: A fleetingly amusing trivia game to test your knowledge of the film.
- The Class of ’95 — A look at the cast, then and now: Just shy of 20 minutes, it’s a pretty solid dive into the casting process that brought this band of kids together, their work together, and a little bit on how they fared afterwards
- Creative Writing with director Amy Heckerling: Interesting background to the project, specifically it’s origins as a TV show, reworking into a film, the connections made to Emma, studio influences, and the release/critical reaction
- Fashion 101: Only 10 minutes is spent delving into one of the most memorable facets of the film. Its solid enough, but you can imagine a feature length piece diving into this
- Language Arts: Again a nice, but short piece on the affectations and slang crafted for the film
- “Suck ‘N Blow”: A Tutorial: Alicia Silverstone is joined by cast member Jeremy Sisto to demonstrate the party game seen in the film
- Driver’s Ed: A few minutes of behind the scenes content about the filming (and incidents) during the freeway sequence in the film
- We’re History — stories from the cast and crew: Reflection, retrospective, cast and crew look back on their experience, their initial reactions to the film, and collaboration with Amy Heckerling
- Trailers: Teaser and theatrical
- Digital download code:
The Bottom Line
25 years on and Clueless remains a comedy gem, a classic that is happily nestled into pop culture thanks to its appeal as a teen comedy, and as a smart social commentary. The anniversary edition blends style with substance in a Blu-ray that looks a bit of a Betty.
Clueless the 25th Anniversary Collector’s Steelbook is available from July 21st