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By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 19, 1995


Amy Heckerling
Alicia Silverstone;
Stacey Dash;
Dan Hedaya;
Brittany Murphy
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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With slackers to the left of her and would-be gangstas to the right, Cher, the teenage hero of Amy Heckerling's buoyantly funny "Clueless," strides through the halls of Beverly Hills High, blithely accepting the admiration of her peers like a princess among peons.

A cool morsel of teen sex appeal, this daughter of privilege (played with supreme comic assurance by Alicia Silverstone) hasn't a care in the world or a thought in her pretty blond head. Like the Valley boys and girls in Heckerling's 1982 debut, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," Cher is meant to give the film's audience a fix on the hearts and minds of today's pampered youth. She is the epitome of the shallow, status-and-style-obsessed modern girl, dressed to the hilt in computer-coordinated outfits, complete with matching cellular phone and designer water holster. Her father (a hilariously gruff Dan Hedaya) is a litigator so scary that he gets paid $500 an hour just to argue with people. But, she proudly reveals as she twirls him around her little finger, "he argues with me for free."

For Cher, the world outside the galleria barely exists, so much so, in fact, that when she is asked to debate the plight of Haitian immigrants, she suggests that the government do as she did at a recent dinner party and simply bring a few more chairs to the table. After all, she says, "it doesn't say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty."

Actually, "Clueless" is "Fast Times" with a posher Zip code. Like those teens, Cher and her friends talk in their own private lingo, hang out at the mall and obsess about guys, though Cher refuses to go out with high school boys. Still, Cher isn't a snob. When a hopeless new girl, Tai (Brittany Murphy), joins her class, she and her best friend, Dionne (Stacey Dash)—who is also named after an entertainer who went on to do infomercials—take pity on her, using their popularity for good instead of evil by initiating a quick fashion make-over to bring the misguided kid up to speed.

Aside from the conflicts that arise out of Tai's new-found appeal, "Clueless" is light on plot but makes up for it in the precision of its observations and sharpness of its one-liners. And, in Silverstone, it also features an actress with a lively, expressive face and a nice instinct for comedy. In a way, Cher is a monster who shamelessly manipulates people to get her way and doesn't know the meaning of the word "no." Her report cards, for example, are seen merely "as a starting pointing for negotiations." And when a mugger tells her to turn over her cellular phone and lie face down on the pavement, she is mortified. "I don't think you understand," she says in horror. "This is an Alaia."

Yet, while Cher and the other characters here may seem vacuous and spoiled, Heckerling—who wrote the script as well—is a gentle satirist. She may poke fun at these materialistic kids, but she also demonstrates that their hearts are in the right place. Ultimately, her portrait is affectionate and, in places, even sweet, enabling us to laugh at them and embrace them at the same time.

Clueless is rated PG-13.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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