By Rob Blackwelder
The high-water mark of bubble-gum teen comedy in the 1990s, "Clueless" was not the usual cliché-riddled garbage driven by social-climbing and hackneyed misunderstandings between boyfriends and girlfriends. Writer-director Amy Heckerling -- also responsible for "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," the most honest teen film of the '80s -- set this wildly clever update of Jane Austen's "Emma" in contemporary Beverly Hills and, in her master stroke, cast Alicia Silverstone in the lead.
High school queen bee Cher Horowitz is a beautiful, spoiled 15-year-old dingbat with a good heart who takes under her makeover-happy wing a frumpy transfer student with a thick Jersey accent (Brittany Murphy), making the girl a popular boy magnet, albeit to her own romantic detriment. Cher's college freshman ex-step-brother (Paul Rudd), likes to hang around her house taking good-natured pot-shots at her habitual matchmaking, which often serves her own purposes more than anything else. (Having learned to argue from her scary lawyer daddy, played by the hilariously gruff Dan Hadaya, she engineers a romance between two teachers -- the perfectly-cast Wallace Shawn and Twink Caplan -- to soften them up for grade negotiations.) And her accessory-shopping quest to find the perfect boyfriend before she loses her viginity ends with her utterly perplexed as to why she can't catch the eye of a smooth, pretty guy (Justin Walker) who loves clothes more than she does and who has a curious obsession with Tony Curtis in "Spartucus" and "Some Like It Hot."
Heckerling tapped into the jugular of the era's teen ethos for this meta-cultural comedy, skillfully and hilariously walking a line between satirizing and corroborating (even influencing) period fashion and slang, attitudes toward sex, drugs and wealth, and singposts of the times, like the early proliferation of cell phones. No nostalgia flick (a la the 1980s-spoofing "The Wedding Singer") could be more perceptive about the past than "Clueless" was about its own present, and few teen comedies have ever bothered even trying to be as well developed.
This isn't to say "Clueless" is a creative masterpiece, but the movie's simple yet spot-on characters and performances make the laughs timeless, no matter how firmly the film is set in 1995. The perfecto cast includes Stacy Dash as Cher's sassy best friend and Donald Faison (now on "Scrubs") as Dash's faux-ghetto beau, Elisa Donovan as Cher's tacky in-crowd rival, Jeremy Sisto as the school hunk and Breckin Meyer as the resident stoner-dude comic relief.
*** out of ****
(97m | PG-13)
"Clueless" deserves better than this chintzy package of pre-fabricated extras. For openers, how about a commentary track? Calling this the "Whatever!" Edition is ironically apropos.
Alicia Silverstone is conspicuously absent from the new material, and Amy Heckerling appears only a handful of times. Almost everyone else in the cast and crew (cinematographer even!) take part in several trite making-of featurettes that don't have 1/10th the spirit or energy of the movie and are full of pointless little pop-up factoids that usually repeat something an interviewee just said. There's no depth to the features, and there's a annoying sense of self-importance about how "Clueless" is, like, a totally iconic film that changed teen movies forever (as if!)
The disc's best goodies are a bunch of on-set interviews from 10 years ago, when, for example, Britanny Murphy was an unknown, nerdy teeange cutie who still had her baby fat.
Other features include sloppy, un-hip quickies about the clothes and the slang, and two trailers for the film.
Unfortunately, as is Paramount's habit, the DVD also has six trailers for other movies that cue up when the disc is loaded and there's no way to skip to the menu, save chapter-fowardinging again and again until they're over.
SOUND & PICTURE
The colors (like, way important in a movie about fashionistas) look great -- much richer than in the Laserdisc I own of the movie.
1.85:1 ratio (16x9 enhanced), Dolby 5.1, 2.0
SUBS: English, Spanish
DVD RATING: **