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the only movie I will NEVER be Clueless about

I finally got an assignment from school (analysing 6 films from 6 different genres) which doesn't make me want to use my grades as a jumping off point to start negotiations, you proud?

Coming-of-age films frequently evoke nostalgia for a time when we were on the edge of adulthood, a pivotal moment or series of events that shaped who we are. These films may almost perfectly depict the most sensitive and vulnerable moments of our youth. They are known to depict the experience of growing up and transitioning from one stage of life to the next, which everyone can identify with. These films try to make their characters come across as relatable to the youth at the time of its release by including slang and pop culture references in the dialouge. Even in the most obscure film set in a different nation or time in history, audiences expect to relate to the characters and reflect on their own experiences. In almost every film, the protagonist is compelled to mature at some time and audiences expect to witness this character arc. Audiences often watch this genre to feel the comfort of knowing that others face the same struggles of growing up that they do and expect to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the main character.

Clueless is successful in meeting the expectations that an audience would have of a coming-of-age film. It follows the story of a high school sophomore, confirming that the protagonist is at an age where one is on the brink of adulthood and is struggling with this transition. This is demonstrated through the more juvenile attitude Cher takes towards more ‘grown-up’ problems such as learning to drive, doing good for humanity and losing your virginity. Despite the seriousness of these topics, Clueless is able to embibe the playful nature of teeangers to downplay the severity in a way that so many teens are guilty of doing. The movie understands the teenage mindset and it may come as a surprise to its audience that Clueless was not written by adults posing as teens but instead by writers who were successful in mimicking the dialogue of Californian adolescents at the time. The movie is successful because it was authentic in its portrayals of teeangers and their mindsets. This is why so many people reasonate with the movie even decades later. The way Cher was written would satisfy the audience because her character development came from a realistic turn of events (her realising that she doesn’t like how she is perceived by others, especially her love interest, Josh.) The idea of changing for external influences is relatable to teens. Cher was also written in a way which does not invalidate the way teenagers feel and behave - she was selfish, she did think about boys, clothes and parties constantly and unlike many movie protagonists, she wasn’t that interested in academics. This might’ve been unexpected to audiences because this genre usually focuses on main characters who are bookish and unpopular (and therefore spar with the ‘Chers’ of the social hierarchy at their schools.)

The opening scene to Clueless is arguably one of the most effective that I have watched. It begins with a montage of clips from the protagonist's life, all of which embody the ‘ideal’ life of a Beverly Hills teen. This aids viewers in understanding Cher’s lifestyle despite her describing it as “way normal” via voice over. We see Cher ‘cruising’ around in a white jeep, shopping with multiple designer purchases slung on her arm, dancing with her friends by the pool - all whilst wearing outfits that most teenage girls could only dream of. This successfully establishes her lifestyle as ‘unattainable’ and glamorous’ for most regular teeangers.

The soundtrack accompanying this montage, a cover of “Kids In America” sung by The Muff’s is a fast paced punk rock number which makes Cher’s life looks like a music video, something which further enhances the scenes effectiveness in portraying her as ‘cool.’ One of the most memorable moments is when Cher uses a program on her computer to find the perfect outfit for school, whilst this is impressive even today, it would've been completely unheard of at the time of the films initial release in 1995. This helps the scene to introduce Cher as someone who other girls would stereotypically like to be.

The opening scene is also successful in introducing character dynamics such as that between Cher and her father, a litigator who resists Cher’s efforts to improve his health as shown by his refusal of her glass of orange juice. We also meet Cher’s equally fashionable best friend Dionne who she introduces by explaining that they are friends because they “both know what it's like to have people be jealous of us,” which suggests that they are both extremely popular at school and are well aware of the fact. Overall one can attest that the opening scene is successful in introducing us to Cher by portraying her as someone whose life seems so perfect, one is invested in what problems could possibly arise for her in the film.

In some ways the world that Heckerling introduces us to in Clueless is a utopia for teenage girls which uses lighthearted comedy to navigate the most common struggles. I think that this was an intentional feature which aided Heckerling in stirring joy in her audience throughout the film. Cher’s world is one Josh so accurately describes as “the world of bare midriffs” and truly is the epitome of traditional femininity which has been modernised by Cher’s celebration of that feminitiy. The movie celebrates the things that girls are condemned for feeling joy in, resulting in feelings of happiness both during and after watching it. The plot has enough going on to keep an audience invested but the director's removal of tension or heavy discord allows viewers to feel lighthearted bliss, something that one does not often find in the modern media.

One could hypothesise that the director wanted you to empathize with Cher and love her despite her many flaws. Cher is pretty, blonde, thin, rich and popular, in most movies she is the recipe for the girl you’re supposed to hate but Heckerling makes this impossible by giving her only the best of intentions. Cher makes mistakes in abundance but we excuse all of them with her kind-hearted demeanor and nurturing intentions. When Josh finally gives her a reality check and asks her to stop ‘acting out’ on Tai, he brings up the fact that Cher acts motherly to fill the void that the death of her own mother left her so that even when we see she has truly messed up on behalf of her best friend, the reasoning stirs sympathy and offers an explanation. Still the overriding factor is her personality, you want to be as loved as you see her best friends are. Cher had no malice, all her mistakes came from good intentions. You couldn't begrudge her the good things in her life because she was so dedicated to using the advantages in her life to do good for other people, even if that good was a makeover using her designer clothing and expensive hair products. Despite her mistakes, audiences stay rooting for Cher because she’s just so likeable. Smiling, with a personality as voluminous as her blowout, Cher entices her audience, elders and peers time and time again.

She wants women to feel empowered in their femininity. Cher was nurturing, dramatic, flirtatious, sensitive, affectionate and just ditsy enough. She was both motherly and girly and allowed herself to feel and do all the things women are condemned for. Heckerling never portrayed this as a bad thing. No matter how many quips Josh made at Cher’s priorities, she always had a quick witted comeback under her (designer) belt. Heckerling allowed her to be a ‘girly girl’ in every sense of the word without having that take away from her intelligence and ability. Cher’s femininity was not mutually exclusive to her positive qualities thereby allowing girls to understand that their femininity is not a flaw.

However, I believe that the director’s primary intention was to make her audience feel ‘seen’ and that everything else was in place to contribute to that. The entire film is a reminder that the woes of a teenage girl, no matter how temporary, are capable of taking over her entire mind, often to detrimental consequences such as Cher failing her driving test. The film is a reminder that it is okay to worry about the things that are fleeting because it shows how much value they hold in a moment.

In Clueless, Heckerling has disguised a love letter to the heart of a teenage girl with plaid and glitter. She reminds us that it is okay to still be figuring out how to let your good intentions lead to good results. Heckerling created a film which allows girls to be preoccupied with boys, looks and friends because it shows the importance of those things and highlights the value in them which is only visible to the teenage girl.

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