Collected Works: Film
directed by Amy Heckerling
A young woman navigates the wide, palm-lined avenues of a pristine L.A. suburb. In a cheerful voiceover, she lists the key features of her gleaming, open-top jeep: ‘four-wheel drive, dual-side airbags, and a monster sound system!’ Her vehicle control is as wild as her boasting. She crashes into a pot-plant on the edge of an immaculate lawn, only to ignore it and veer onwards. After stopping off briefly at her best friend’s sprawling, mock-Tudor house, we arrive at our destination: the campus of Bronson Alcott High School.
Cher Horowitz is a twentieth-century caricature, an updating of Jane Austen’s Emma for the chick-flick generation. Pampered and uninterested in high-school boys, she busies herself instead with coupling up others. Her matchmaking missions are thoughtless and frivolous, at times even manipulative, yet her intentions are good. The nineties teenager and nineteenth-century woman of leisure may seem to occupy incomparable worlds, but both affably negotiate claustrophobic societies preoccupied with status and gossip.
Cher's outlook is always laid bare for the audience, shared in a candid, confessional commentary. But there is often a disconnect between her perspective and the reality that we see onscreen. It is obvious to all but Cher that her attempt to set up the ‘clueless’ new girl with Elton, the most sought-after boy in school, is doomed. Her sunny disposition leaves her oblivious to the inevitable heartbreak. Alongside the witty, quotable one-liners, this disunity between events and Cher's account of them fuels the farcical humour.
Strutting down the bustling hallway in her tartan blazer, pleated miniskirt, and white, knee-high socks, Cher is presented as a cartoon of the most popular girl in the school. Interpreted superficially, the series of scenes may seem as fluffy and vacuous as her impractical backpack. But, like its central protagonist, the film is far more astute than first impressions would have us think. With each unexpected swerve, Clueless lurches off-road, happily breaking the neat confines to which we expect it to adhere.
Words by Emma McKinlay