It is a grim time indeed to be a smartass movie critic. Although this is the summer seasonthat yearly tradition of big budget non-epics and ego-driven hype extravaganzasI feel uninspired. This years offerings just seem so dull, I cant work myself up into a lather. Sure, most of the movies are crappy, but theyre uniformly crappy in a mediocre way.
Lets run down my Second Annual Summer Movie Summation.
Operation Dumbo Drop: crap.
Nine Months: crap.
First Knight: crap.
The Bridges of Madison County: crap.
Judge Dredd: crap.
Under Siege 2: crap.
While You Were Sleeping: crap.
Johnny Mnemonic: crap.
French Kiss: crap.
See? Nothing spectacularly bad about any of them. How am I supposed fulfill my yearly duty of raging against the Hollywood establishment if their movies are just inoffensively stupid? Wheres my Last Action Hero? Wheres my Disclosure?
Waterworld seems oh so far away
Until then, we must make do with what were allotted. Which is what audiences seem happy to be doing, anyway. No matter how derivative or predictable the sequels are this summer, the moviegoers keep coming in droves, not caring whether the movies are good or bad, just wanting to get exactly what they expect. If it werent for Apollo 13 (and, yes, I admit it, Species), Id say this summers a wash. So whats a grouchy critic to do?
Review Clueless, thats what. Its come to this: the most interesting movie I can think of to write about is a throwaway, lighter-than-air, plotless teen comedy about spoiled kids in Beverly Hills. But its really a pretty good throwaway, lighter-than-air, plotless teen comedy about spoiled kids in Beverly Hills, so what the heck.
Alicia Silverstonethe Aerosmith video tartstars as Cher, a 16-year-old center of popularity at Beverly Hills High School. Her main dilemma (besides choosing which designer outfit to wear) is improving her grades. Not quite patient enough to actually study, she instead plots to get her testy debate teacher (Wallace Shawn) laid so he'll ease up in class. Meanwhile, she and her best friend (Stacey Dash) take a new, rather sloppy student (Brittany Murphy) under their wing and give her a makeover. And, finally, she develops a crush on her ex-stepbrother. AndTa da!that's the movie.
Obviously not plot-heavy, Clueless is instead being hyped as another inside look into the world of teenagers by director Amy Heckerling, who made the "now classic" Fast Times at Ridgemont High. And indeed, she has an eye for details, able to discern the latest cliques and fads: the skateboard surfer types proudly wearing their baseball caps backward; the beeper-equipped b-boys whose baggy pants sag to their knees; the stoner-hippies time warped in from the 60s and dancing on the grass.
But since Clueless is set in Beverly Hills Highwith perhaps the most overexposed, over-idolized group of adolescents in the countrythese teens have atypical fixations. The girls bear nose-job bandages, the boys brandish cellular phones. Their outfits aren't just clothes they like to wear, they're perfectly realized, designer versions of what normal kids cobble together, from pseudo-gangsta ensembles to polyester waitress uniforms. Heckerling certainly seems to know what she's skewering, and she does so very entertainingly, frosting her satire with mostly fresh slang.
There is a big difference, however, between Clueless and its predecessor. While Ridgemont certainly exposed teen cliques, Heckerling's debut film also took their perspectiveit was essentially about how different types of adolescents react to growing up. Clueless, on the other hand, mostly says that teens are obsessed with appearances and that they assume the roles their outfits dictateand justly makes fun of them. That isn't to say Clueless isn't sympathetic to its kids, it's just that most of them are constructed out of the thinnest cardboard.
Surprisingly, it's Alicia Silverstone who gives the movie a genuinely human feel. Although her character is frivolous in the extreme, Silverstone makes her an engaging personality, sort of a self-conscious Valley girl. With her blond tresses, perfect complexion and matching outfits, Silverstone's Cher is obviously a child of privilegebut a well-intentioned one stuck in a milieu that doesn't provide too many opportunities for inner development. Although there's no real crises or drama to be had in the Porsche-glow of Beverly Hills, Silverstone makes you feel that her character might actually be growing upsomething none of the other kids of Clueless seem capable of.
So, while it probably won't attain "now classic" status, Clueless is nevertheless good, light fun.
But, more importantly, when is Waterworld coming out?