Clueless

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Clueless
Clueless film poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAmy Heckerling
Written byAmy Heckerling
Produced by
StarringAlicia Silverstone
CinematographyBill Pope
Edited byDebra Chiate
Music byDavid Kitay
Production
company
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • July 19, 1995 (1995-07-19) (United States)
Running time
97 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$12 million[2]
Box office$56.6 million[3]

Clueless is a 1995 American coming-of-age teen comedy film written and directed by Amy Heckerling. It stars Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy and Paul Rudd. It was produced by Scott Rudin and Robert Lawrence. It is loosely based on Jane Austen's 1815 novel Emma, with a modern-day setting of Beverly Hills.[4][5] The plot centers on Cher Horowitz, a beautiful, popular and rich high school student who befriends a new student named Tai Frasier and decides to give her a makeover.

Clueless was filmed in California over a 40-day schedule. The film's director studied real Beverly Hills high school students to understand how real teens in the 1990s talked and learned some appropriate slang terms.

The film grossed $56.1 million in the United States. It has received positive reviews from critics and is considered to be one of the best teen films of all time.[6][7][8][9] Clueless has developed a cult following and has a continuing legacy. The film was followed by a spin-off television sitcom, and series of books.

Plot[edit]

Cher Horowitz lives in a Beverly Hills mansion with her wealthy father Mel, a gruff litigator; her mother died during a liposuction procedure when she was a baby. Cher is attractive, stylish, good-natured and popular. She attends Bronson Alcott High School with her best friend Dionne Davenport, who is also wealthy and beautiful. Cher and Dionne are both named after "great singers of the past who now do infomercials."[10] Dionne has a long-term relationship with popular student Murray Duvall. Cher claims that this is a pointless endeavor for Dionne, who ought to be dating more mature guys.

Josh, Cher's socially conscious ex-stepbrother, visits her during a break from college. They spar continually but playfully. She mocks his idealism, while he teases her for being selfish, vain and superficial, saying that her only direction in life is "toward the mall".

After receiving a poor grade, Cher decides to play matchmaker for two hard-grading teachers at her school, Mr. Hall and Miss Geist. She orchestrates a romance between the two teachers to make them relax their grading standards so she can renegotiate a bad grade on her report card. After seeing their newfound happiness, Cher realizes that she enjoys doing good deeds. She then decides to give back to the community by "adopting" a "tragically unhip" new girl at school, Tai Frasier.

Cher and Dionne give Tai a makeover, which provides Tai with confidence and a sense of style. Cher tries to extinguish the attraction between Tai and Travis Birkenstock, an amiable but clumsy slacker, and to steer her towards Elton, a handsome and popular student. However, Elton has no interest in Tai and instead tries to make out in his car with Cher, who rebuffs him.

A fashion-conscious new student named Christian attracts Cher's attention at school and becomes her target boyfriend. When Cher goes to a party with Christian, Josh gets jealous and follows her to the party "just to take care of her." When Christian comes over to watch some movies at her home, she tries to seduce him, but he deflects her advances. Murray subsequently explains to Cher and Dionne that Christian is gay. Despite the failure of her romantic overtures, Cher remains friends with Christian, primarily due to her admiration of his good taste in art and fashion.

Cher's privileged life takes a negative turn when Tai's newfound popularity strains their relationship. Cher's frustration escalates after she fails her driving test and cannot change the result. When Cher returns home in a depressed mood, Tai confesses her feelings for Josh and asks Cher for help in pursuing him. Cher says that Tai is not right for Josh, leading to a quarrel which results in Tai calling Cher a "virgin who can't drive". Feeling "totally clueless", Cher reflects on her priorities and her repeated failures to understand or appreciate the people in her life.

After thinking about why she is bothered by Tai's romantic interest in Josh, Cher finally realizes that she is actually in love with him. Cher begins making awkward but sincere efforts to live a more purposeful life, including captaining the school's Pismo Beach disaster relief effort. Cher and Josh eventually follow through on their feelings for one another, culminating in a tender kiss. Ultimately, Cher's friendships with Tai and Dionne are solidified, Tai and Travis are dating, Mr. Hall and Miss Geist get married, and Cher catches the wedding bouquet – helping Josh win a $200 bet. She then embraces Josh and they kiss.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

The idea for Clueless first originated as a TV pilot in 1993.[11][12][13] Said writer and director Amy Heckerling: "Twentieth Century Fox said they wanted a show about teenagers — but not the nerds. They wanted it to be about the cool kids. The most successful character in anything I’d ever done was Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times. People think that’s because he was stoned and a surfer. But that’s not it. It’s because he’s positive. So I thought, 'I’m going to write a character who’s positive and happy.' And that was Cher.”[12] Heckerling, having read the Jane Austen novel Emma in college and loving the title character's positivity, decided to write the script around an Emma-like character, saying, "I started to think, 'What's the larger context for that kind of a 'nothing can go wrong' 'always looks through rose colored glasses' kind of girl? So I tried to take all the things that were in this sort of pretty 1800s world and see what would that be like if it was in Beverly Hills.”[11]

"I remembered reading Emma in college and being struck at how much it reminded me of old TV shows like Gidget. There’s something so basic about it. I knew [Clueless] would be set in Beverly Hills because it’s a hyper-pastel fantasy place."

—writer and director Amy Heckerling in 2012[12]

As research for the script, Heckerling sat in on classes at Beverly Hills High School to get a feel for the student culture,[14] commenting, "...one thing I observed was these girls in a constant state of grooming."[12] Ken Stovitz had become Heckerling's agent at the time and told her the script had the potential to be a feature film after he read it.[13] The finished script, which was titled "No Worries," contained the main characters that would end up in the Clueless film.[13] Twink Caplan, Heckerling’s friend who had worked with her on past projects, said film executives at Fox were wary of the story being too female-oriented to appeal to a large enough audience. "It was obvious they didn’t get it. They thought the script needed more boys in it. They were afraid that if they focused on girls, we wouldn’t get any guys to see it. So it went into turnaround. It was dead,” said Caplan.[12]

Six months later, the script found its way to producer Scott Rudin, who gave it his stamp of approval.[11][12] Rudin’s support led to increased interest in the script, and it became the subject of a bidding war between studios which was eventually won by Paramount Pictures.[11] Heckerling was excited, as Paramount owned several major youth-centered TV channels, such as MTV and Nickelodeon, which were suited to the film's target demographic.[11]

Casting[edit]

Heckerling first saw Alicia Silverstone in the Aerosmith music video for "Cryin’" and kept her in the back of her mind for the role of Cher.[13] When the film was still in development at Fox, executives suggested Alicia Witt, Keri Russell, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Angelina Jolie for the part.[13] Heckerling met with Reese Witherspoon, who already had a few film roles to her credit.[13] Though Silverstone only had the thriller The Crush as her previous film, the studio did not pressure Heckerling to cast big stars, and Silverstone ultimately won the role of Cher.[14] Ben Affleck and Zach Braff auditioned for the role of Josh.[13] Sarah Michelle Gellar was offered the role of Amber Mariens but turned it down due to her commitments to All My Children while Zooey Deschanel auditioned.

Seth Green auditioned for the role of Travis and Alanna Ubach was considered for the role of Tai.[13] Terrence Howard and Dave Chappelle were considered for the role of Murray.[13] Jeremy Renner and Jamie Walters auditioned for the role of Christian, and Jerry Orbach and Harvey Keitel were considered for the role of Cher's dad, Melvin Horowitz.[13][15]

The character of Wendell Hall, played by Wallace Shawn, was inspired by a real-life debate teacher at Beverly Hills High School and a friend of Heckerling’s. Prior to full-time acting, Shawn had been a teacher and drew on his experience for his portrayal of Mr. Hall.[14]

Filming[edit]

The Westfield Fashion Square was used for some interior mall scenes.

Principal photography for the film began on November 21, 1994[16] and consisted of a 40-day filming schedule.[17] Brittany Murphy, who was only seventeen at the time, required a parent or guardian present during filming.[18] The costume designer for Clueless was Mona May.[19]

Scenes depicting the fictional Bronson Alcott high school campus including the tennis courts, outdoor cafeteria, and the quad were filmed at Occidental College in Los Angeles.[20] Ulysses S. Grant High School in Valley Glen provided filming locations for the school's interior sets.[21] Other notable filming locations include Circus Liquor in North Hollywood, where Cher is mugged in her designer dress, and Rodeo Drive, featured in Cher's "crisis" scene as she dejectedly wanders around after a failed driver's test and a confrontation with Tai.[21]

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones performance, originally an outdoor event, had to be moved inside due to rain.[18] Paul Rudd bought everyone gifts after filming wrapped.[22]

Release[edit]

Box office[edit]

The film became a surprise sleeper hit of 1995. Clueless opened in 1,653 theaters on July 19, 1995 and grossed $10,612,443 on its opening weekend, which led to a ranking of second behind Apollo 13.[3] The film grossed $56,631,572 during its theatrical run, becoming the 32nd-highest-grossing film of 1995.[23] The box office success brought the then-largely unknown Silverstone to international attention and earned her a $10 million, multi-picture deal with Columbia TriStar.[24] The film developed a strong cult following after its release.[7][25]

Critical reception[edit]

The film was well received by critics. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 81% based on reviews from 115 critics, with an average rating of 6.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "A funny and clever reshaping of Emma, Clueless offers a soft satire that pokes as much fun at teen films as it does at the Beverly Hills glitterati."[26] On Metacritic, the film has a 68 out of 100 rating based on 18 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews".[27]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars.[28] Janet Maslin of The New York Times notes, "Even if Clueless runs out of gas before it's over, most of it is as eye-catching and cheery as its star."[29] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone contrasted the film to a more adult-oriented movie about teenagers released around the same time, Kids, stating, "The materialism in Clueless is almost as scary as the hopelessness in Kids," but concluded Clueless is "wicked good fun to be had [and] Silverstone is a winner."[30]

Accolades[edit]

In 2008, Entertainment Weekly selected Clueless as one of the "New Classics," a list of 100 best films released between 1983 and 2008;[31] Clueless was ranked 42nd.[31] That year, the publication also named it the 19th-best comedy of the past 25 years.[32] The film is ranked as number 7 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 best high school movies.[33]

American Film Institute recognition:

Comparison to Emma[edit]

Clueless is a loose adaptation of Jane Austen's 1815 novel Emma, and many of its characters have counterparts in the novel.[36][37][38]

  • Cher Horowitz/Emma Woodhouse: Cher is representative of the main character Emma Woodhouse. Spunky, carefree, entitled, perpetually single, and matchmaker extraordinaire, both Cher and Emma enjoy the satisfaction of helping those who are without love find a perfect match. This is first seen within the first fifteen minutes of the film when both she and Dionne pair their English teacher with the school's Debate teacher. However, this is more prominently reflected when Cher does everything in her power to pair her newest friend Tai. While both Emma and Cher mean well in their matchmaking attempts, neither of them realizes the depths of her actions nor her feelings towards Josh/Mr. Knightley until Tai/Harriet asks her to set her up with Josh/Mr. Knightley.
  • Josh/Mr. Knightley: Cher's former stepbrother, whom she finds utterly repulsive. At the beginning of the movie, she states that she has no positive feelings towards Josh in the slightest. The two bicker continually. However, as the movie progresses, Josh is shown to be more caring and considerate towards Cher, becoming defensive towards her choices of men and in life. In the novel, Mr. Knightley is the brother of Emma's sister's husband and is Emma's only critic. Cher/Emma and Josh/Mr. Knightley eventually realize they are in love.
  • Tai/Harriet Smith: Tai, representative of the young, fair, and socially awkward Harriet Smith, is a newcomer to Bronson Alcott High School. Soon after, she is swept off her feet by both Cher and Dionne as they help her (unintentionally) become the most popular girl in school, to Cher's dismay. At the beginning of the film, Tai is attracted to Travis, a well-meaning, skateboard-riding, pot-smoking social recluse. Harriet is likewise attracted to humble farmer Robert Martin. Each is pressured by Cher/Emma to reject her lower-status potential lover, instead being pushed towards Elton/Mr Elton. Disastrously for Cher, Tai then falls for Josh. Emma is likewise horrified when Harriet falls in love with Mr. Knightley. In both cases, this leads to the heroine examining her own true feelings.
  • Mel Horowitz/Mr. Henry Woodhouse: Similarly to Emma, Mr. Horowitz is a well known and respected man within his circle of friends, though there is one major difference between both characters: while Mr. Horowitz is shown to have little to no care for his health, Mr. Woodhouse is considered to be a valetudinarian. Both characters are shown to love their daughters greatly while not always being so forward in their affection.
  • Christian/Frank Churchill: The initially appealing love interest of Cher, whom she convinces herself she must be in love with, similar to Frank Churchill in the book. In the book, Churchill is not available to Emma because he is secretly already engaged; in the film, Christian is not available to Cher because he is gay. Both characters engage in surface-level flirting with the heroine and make her consider her own feelings.
  • Travis/Robert Martin: A stoner and skater who has a mutual attraction with Tai; however, their attempts at courtship are derailed for a time by Cher's attempt to set Tai up with Elton. Travis is an underachiever, is constantly late for class and often receives poor grades. In the book, Emma considers Martin, a farmer, to be beneath Harriet.
  • Elton Tascia/Mr. Elton: Elton is a popular student whom Cher attempts to fix up with Tai. As is the case with the Elton from the book, he is not interested in Tai/Harriet and mistakenly believes that Cher/Emma is interested in him.
  • Amber/Mrs. Elton: Cher's antagonist, who is implied to be dating Elton after Cher turns down his advance, similar to Mr. Elton taking a wife after Emma rejects him.
  • Miss Geist/Miss Taylor and Mr. Hall/Mr. Weston: The initial targets of Cher's/Emma's matchmaking.

Home media[edit]

Clueless was released on VHS and LaserDisc on December 19, 1995 by Paramount Home Video. It was released on DVD on October 19, 1999. The special features only included two theatrical trailers.

The film was reissued in a special tenth-anniversary "Whatever! Edition" DVD on August 30, 2005.[39] The new issue included featurettes and cast interviews, including:The Class of '95 (a look at the cast), Creative Writing (Amy Heckerling talks about the script), Fashion 101 (how filmmakers invented the trendsetting style of Clueless), Language Arts (the director and cast members give facts on the groundbreaking slang and how Clueless revived Valspeak slang), Suck and Blow (how to play the game depicted in the Sun Valley party scene), Driver's Ed, We're History (stories from cast and crew of Clueless), and two theatrical trailers.

It was released on Blu-ray on May 1, 2012.[40] Special features from the "Whatever! Edition" of 2005 were carried over to the Blu-ray and included a new trivia track.

Soundtrack[edit]

Clueless: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by
Released1995
December 7, 2006 (CD)
Recorded1994-1995
GenreFilm score
Length51:26
LabelCapitol Records (Universal Music Group)
Clueless: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
No.TitleLength
1."Kids in America" (The Muffs)3:24
2."Shake Some Action" (Cracker)4:25
3."The Ghost in You" (Counting Crows)3:30
4."Here (Squirmel Mix)" (Luscious Jackson)3:33
5."All the Young Dudes" (World Party)4:00
6."Fake Plastic Trees (acoustic version)" (Radiohead)4:45
7."Change" (Lightning Seeds)4:01
8."Need You Around" (Smoking Popes)3:42
9."Mullet Head" (Beastie Boys)2:53
10."Where'd You Go?" (The Mighty Mighty Bosstones)3:16
11."Rollin' with My Homies" (Coolio)4:06
12."Alright" (Supergrass)3:01
13."My Forgotten Favorite" (Velocity Girl)3:49
14."Supermodel" (Jill Sobule)3:07
Total length:51:26

Cultural impact and legacy[edit]

Cast[edit]

Brittany Murphy

After the death of Brittany Murphy, Silverstone stated that she "always felt connected to [Murphy] as [they] shared a very special experience in [their] lives together",[41] and said "I loved working with Brittany. She was so talented, so warm, and so sweet."[41]

Heckerling later described Silverstone as having "that Marilyn Monroe thing" as a "pretty, sweet blonde who, in spite of being the American ideal, people still really like."[24]

The surviving cast reunited in 2012 for an issue of Entertainment Weekly.[42]

Heckerling later reunited with both Silverstone and Shawn for the vampire comedy Vamps.[24]

Popular culture and society[edit]

The film was well known for the characters' catchphrases and vocabulary. Cher's verbal style is also marked by ironic contrasts between current slang and historical references, such as when she compares Tai to "those Botticelli chicks".[43]

The film also had a strong influence on fashion trends.[44][45] Fashion as a form of self-expression played an important role in the narrative and character development of the film, television series, and novels, which are topics examined by academic Alice Leppert.[46]

Donatella Versace's 2018 collection was influenced by Clueless.[47]

Clueless was the main inspiration for Australian rapper Iggy Azalea's music video for her 2014 song "Fancy" featuring Charli XCX. Many visuals and costumes inspired by the film were used in the video,[48] which is filled with remakes of Clueless scenes. The outfits are also reinvented to channel the famous stylings of the film with a slightly modern edge.[49] "Fancy" was shot in the same Los Angeles high school where Clueless was filmed.[50] A June 2018 episode of Lip Sync Battle featured Alicia Silverstone miming to "Fancy", wearing the iconic yellow check outfit.

A reference to Cher's seduction of Christian is included in the music video to late Simone Battle's 'He Likes Boys'.[51]

In the second episode of the second season of the BBC America thriller series Killing Eve, "Nice and Neat" (2019), the Russian assassin Villanelle calls her agency and uses the codename Cher Horowitz to secretly inform her boss she is in trouble and needs to be rescued after being kidnapped.[52]

In a 2020 Discover Card commercial, a clip from the film was featured which consisted of Cher Horowitz saying her famous phrase "Uh uh, no way".[53]

Spin-offs and adaptations[edit]

Television[edit]

In 1996, the producers created a spin-off television series, which followed parallel storylines of Cher and her friends. Several cast members from the film went on to star in the series, with the notable exceptions of Silverstone and Rudd, whose film careers had begun to take off. Silverstone was replaced in the series with actress Rachel Blanchard.

In October 2019, it was announced that CBS would be adapting the film into a drama series. The series is said to be centered around Dionne Davenport after Cher goes missing, and is described by Deadline as a "baby pink and bisexual blue-tinted, tiny sunglasses-wearing, oat milk latte and Adderall-fueled look at what happens when the high school queen bee Cher disappears and her lifelong number two Dionne steps into Cher's vacant Air Jordans."[54] On August 14, 2020, it was moved to NBCUniversal's streaming service known as Peacock.[55] In May 2021, it was reported that the series would not be moving forward at Peacock and instead would be redeveloping at CBS Studios.[56]

Books[edit]

Simon Spotlight Entertainment spun off a collection of paperback books from 1995 to 1999 aimed at adolescent readers.[57]

In 2015, to celebrate the film's twentieth anniversary, pop culture writer Jen Chaney published a book titled As If!: The Oral History of Clueless. The book is based on exclusive interviews with Amy Heckerling, Alicia Silverstone, and other cast and crew members. Excerpts from the book were published in Vanity Fair.[58][13]

Comics[edit]

A comic book series was launched in 2017.[59]

Stage musical[edit]

Clueless: The Musical opened in New York City on December 11, 2018, as part of The New Group's 2018–2019 season. The show was written by Heckerling and starred Dove Cameron as Cher and Dave Thomas Brown as Josh. It closed on January 12, 2019.[60][61]

The musical was a jukebox musical featuring pop songs from the 1990s, though with lyrics mostly or entirely rewritten by Heckerling to fit the storyline. Songs adapted from the movie's soundtrack included "Supermodel" and "Kids in America."[61]

Video games[edit]

Clueless CD-ROM was released in 1997.[62] Paramount announced in 2008 that they would be releasing video games based on their films Clueless, Mean Girls and Pretty in Pink.[63] The games were planned to be released on both the PC and the Nintendo DS, but only the PC games were released. Clueless on PC was released in 2009.[64] The DS game was found by YouTuber Bobdunga (also known as Raven Simone)[65] and a full play-through of the game was released on her channel on April 1, 2021.[66][67] In 2017, Episode launched an animated web story based on the film.[68]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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