By Patricia Mántaras
How can a teen comedy based on a Jane Austen classic become a cult film in the 90s? Ask Amy Heckerling. It was 1994 when he brought to Paramount -and all the other studios- the script for Clueless in California, accompanied by a VHS with the video for the song Crazy by Aerosmith, starring Alicia Silverstone. It had the script (inspired by the Austen novel Emma), it had the tone and it had the actress. Paramount saw the potential and, the following year, Clueless (No idea in Uruguay, Out of the loop in Spain) hit theaters in the United States and was a hit.
Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone), a rich girl from Beverly Hills, decides to become a better person and care for her fellow man. Others turn into exciting projects when Cher feels she can do something for them, whether it’s making them popular in high school, finding a boyfriend or girlfriend, or donating something as essential as ski equipment. “God, this woman is screaming for a makeover! I’m her only hope,” Cher exclaims about her teacher.
The film was all the rage at the time, making Silverstone the it girl of those years, and wardrobe a must for teenage girls. One of Cher’s outfits, the yellow plaid jacket and pleated miniskirt, was even an inspiration for Halloween costumes and can still be found on Amazon for $ 60.
Clueless also established the “whatever” so popular among young Americans. Pronounced with some disdain and indifference, so Cher and her friends, Dionne (Stacey Dash) and Tai (Brittany Murphy), implied that something or someone did not give them the same or it was not worth it.
Twenty-five years later there is a remake in the works and Netflix made it available on its comedy menu. Just put it to the test to see that it works for both 90’s and today’s teens.
Who is Amy Heckerling? In addition to being the scriptwriter and director of Clueless, she is the creator of Look Who’s Talking, that late-80s comedy with John Travolta and Kirstie Alley in which the baby maintained a kind of inner monologue and understood everything that adults said, although they didn’t understand him. Some time later came the sequel, Look who’s talking too.
It took a few years for Clueless to appear. “The wickedly hilarious satire on wealthy teenagers in Beverly Hills emerged this weekend as an unexpected summer hit,” read The New York Times review published in July 1995. The box office success took Heckerling by surprise, as well as everything that followed: the repercussions, the fans, the three-season TV series, the sale of special DVD editions, and the 21 youth novels that offered new adventures for the characters.
Who is Cher Horowitz? “I like optimistic characters, even if they have no reason to be optimistic,” Heckerling said. That’s Cher Horowitz. She is not the troubled adolescent: she is popular but considerate. She is the last virgin of the group. “I’m very picky. They know how finicky I am with my shoes, and they are for my feet!” She says in conversation with Dionne and Tai.
She is also the one who loses the driving test and asks the man who takes the test: “Can I talk to your superior? There must be someone with more power than you.” According to her, everything can be solved with a good argument. His dad, a billionaire lawyer – whom he feels he has to care for after his mother died while having liposuction – taught him about it.
Every so often they are visited by their stepbrother, Josh (Paul Rudd), who is not the son of his father or his mother, he is the son of his father’s first wife, with his first husband. By the time Cher realizes that she likes Josh, she has already convinced her friend Tai – in her ambition to manipulate people’s fates to make them happy – that they were meant for each other.
Emblematic fashion. “You should try rigging,” Cher says when she is pointed out that she has drifted off the lane. Fashion is one of the axes on which both the plot and the humor of Clueless focus. Cher has the software she dreamed of: all she has to do is enter her clothes into the computer and the computer assembles her outfits by herself. When it finds the perfect match the screen says “match!”
On one of her first dates with Christian (the gay boy Cher falls in love with before she finds out he just wants to be her friend), her father sees her show up in a white minidress and asks, “What’s that?” . “A dress,” she replies. “Who says it?” “Calvin Klein”, and walks away ending the conversation.
Almost every wardrobe in the film, to the credit of costume designer Mona May, became iconic. It was one of the first films in which the protagonists talked about fashion and designers in such a fresh and casual way, as if haute couture were everyday. In one of the most dramatic scenes, Cher is mugged in a deserted Los Angeles parking lot. When the thief yells at her to get down on the floor, she responds, shocked and pointing to her red dress: “It’s an Alaïa”, referring to the designer Azzedine Alaïa.
The after. Clueless was not just a monumental stained glass window for Alicia Silverstone. It was also for Paul Rudd, who after that role was able to play Mike, Phoebe’s (Lisa Kudrow) boyfriend in Friends, and was added to an infinity of Judd Apatow films (such as Virgin at 40 and Slightly pregnant), almost always turned towards comedy
Later, perhaps on a nostalgic impulse, Heckerling returned to direct Rudd in My Mother’s Boyfriend in 2007. Michelle Pfeiffer plays a divorced mother there who is dating a younger man (Rudd). Eight years ago the director found the opportunity to work with Silverstone again on Vamps, a film about two good vampires looking for love in today’s New York. Neither film was a huge success.
Clueless is obviously still the director’s most important work. While another screenwriter, Tracy Oliver, writes the remake for the cinema, Heckerling managed to realize a few months ago his dream of adapting the libretto into a musical. “Two people falling in love, well, they have to sing,” he said of the love that grows between Cher and Josh and their delayed dream of seeing the story on Broadway. Clueless: the musical stars Dove Cameron and ran until last January.
It’s weird how a piece that seemed so focused at one time, on one fashion, remains in effect so many years later. Good comedies have that.
In addition to whatever, the film popularized an invented lexicon that was installed in the youngest.
No literal translation. It means something like “don’t even dream about it” or “there’s no chance.”
Be a Monet.
“Something that looks good from a distance but up close is a mess.”
Surf the crimson wave.
“Being with the period.”
WHERE IS ALICIA SILVERSTONE?
Before Clueless Alicia Silverstone had had a kind of breakthrough role at the age of 17 in the film The Crush (1993), in which she played a teenager obsessed with an older man. Then her name began to ring among teenagers, and she won the MTV awards for Best Villain and Newcomer. These recognitions caught the attention of the band Aerosmith, who called her to star in a trilogy of video clips, including Crazy, the most remembered, in which Liv Tyler, daughter of the band’s vocalist, Steven Tyler, also works.
Then came Clueless, and two years later, in 1997, Batman and Robin, a film in which he plays Batgirl, George Clooney to Batman and Chris O’Donnell to Robin. A resounding failure. It was followed by leading roles in less memorable films, and supporting roles in some comedies such as Scooby-Doo 2 (2004) and Tropic Thunder (2008).
But Silverstone’s focus of late was not so much on acting but on her adherence to veganism and her activism for animal rights, which made her something of a lifestyle guru. A video that she shared on her blog, The Kind Life, went viral, in which she fed her son Bear Blu, then 10 months old, with food previously chewed by her. Criticism rained down for the lack of hygiene in the practice, but she said she had no regrets and that what she was doing was the most natural thing in the world.
In 2018, she separated from Christopher Jarecki, father of her son, after being together for 20 years. Today she is shown on social media totally dedicated to her seven-year-old son and his company, The Kind Life, which sells vitamins for mothers and pregnant women.
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The iconic film Clueless turns 25