She is a 16-year-old ray of light offering momentary reprieve from the current deluge of movies devoted to the dark side of adolescence, in a self-punishing diet of crime, drugs, sex, and shock.

CLUELESS

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


Thanks to a bright young cast and a stylish production, "Clueless" jumps off the screen with improbable gaiety. Director/writer Amy Heckerling has managed to make good fun with the spoiled young rich of Bronson Alcott High School in Beverly Hills. Alicia Silverstone strides through this unpromising landscape with an engagingly upbeat, unselfconscious performance as Cher, a kind-hearted teenager who computerizes her wardrobe.

She is a 16-year-old ray of light offering momentary reprieve from the current deluge of movies devoted to the dark side of adolescence, in a self-punishing diet of crime, drugs, sex, and shock. If she drives her own white Jeep Wrangler and uses a cellular phone the way other teenagers have used lipstick and the old family car, it is endearing rather than repulsive. Why?

Because the core of the story is rooted in protective affection--a steady, permanent stream of it between father and daughter. Such familial love seems alien. Conditioned by screen violence, we watch "Clueless" with one eye cocked for some inevitable ax to fall, for the comeuppance to be delivered. When the suspicion finally dissolves, a kind of frothy bubble bath of appreciation envelops the audience. It's O.K. to laugh after all.

Cher (Alicia Silverstone) lives in a world where the abundance of money fuels a comical culture of plenty. The refrigerator is full of trays of impeccably ready sandwich makings, and a day can be summed up by "I broke in my purple clogs." Phone numbers are "digits," houses are outlandish pretensions, gas fireplaces are ignited with electronic zappers--and all of it is wrapped in enthusiasm.

Cher floats through all this as a one-woman band of good intentions, which take the form of makeovers for the needy, matchmaking for the lonely, and caretaking for her widowed father (Dan Hedaya). Even that's a switch. Although Dad is a driven litigator, he is home, preparing an important case that only partly hides his affectionate concern for his goofy daughter.

This dad knows his daughter will negotiate perfectly the Cadillac culture that surrounds her, and, after a while, we know he's right. Expensive toys and tastes are mere incidentals to Cher and her friends. Whatever drugs or alcohol they allow themselves is reserved for parties. It's almost a replay of the pecking order politics of the 50s, without the meanness of spirit that infects our time.

Lurking in the background with handsome cuddliness is the solution to Cher's distaste for high school boys: budding lawyer Josh (Paul Rudd) is falling in love with the eccentric goofball who is his step-sister. Josh waits patiently for Cher to get serious, and when he realizes that, within her own parameters, she already is, he's a goner.

We don't spend a second worrying about Cher's past or future. Wondering what she will do next is as challenging as this movie gets. What she does next is usually very funny. Watch out, Grunge: here comes the return of Mod.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 497
Studio : Paramount
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 1h37m


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