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By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 21, 1995


Amy Heckerling
Alicia Silverstone;
Stacey Dash;
Dan Hedaya;
Brittany Murphy
mushy stuff

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A "GIDGET" FOR THE MILLENNIUM, a perfect time capsule for this Attention-Deficit-Disordered decade, "Clueless" is a live-action Sassy magazine (the real Sassy, not the pod-people imposter on the newsstands now). It's "My So-Called Life" x "Beverly Hills, 90210" + "The State."

"Clueless" stars Alicia Silverstone, MTV's Girl of the Moment. And it's directed by Amy Heckerling, who crystallized early-'80s L.A. in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," returning to the scene of the teen genre movie, clearly her art form. Fizzy, dizzy, tart-tongued but sweet-spirited, "Clueless" can't miss: Boys will flock to anything with Silverstone in it, and girls are hungry for anything that even remotely resembles their lives.

"So, okay, you're probably going, `Is this a Noxzema commercial or what?' " says Silverstone to the audience, after an opening montage showing her character Cher—a comically overprivileged, super-popular, spoiled-bratty, Beverly Hills galleria golden girl—making an Outfit Decision.

Skimpy as one of Silverstone's teeny costumes, the plot turns on her efforts to prove (at least to herself) that she's not totally shallow. Abetted by best friend Dionne ("We're both named after great singers of the past who now do infomercials," Silverstone notes), Silverstone's good works run to shopping for the underprivileged, doing a makeover on the totally clueless new girl in school, playing yenta to teachers (to put them in a better mood so everyone's grades will improve) and classmates, angling for her driver's license (there are two screamingly funny driving scenes), and falling in love with Josh, her father's Gen-X stepson (Silverstone has to keep repeating, "You're not my brother," so the audience won't forget and be grossed out by the icky idea of incest).

But who cares about the story—in Heckerling's movies, it's all about the details. Crammed with pop-culture references to everything from cellular phones to skateboarding to Starbucks (she scores one of her biggest laughs just by showing a Mentos TV commercial), Heckerling's script has even more and better teenspeak lines than "Heathers."

"I don't want to be a traitor to my generation, but I don't get how boys dress these days," Silverstone complains, as the slo-mo camera trails a quartet of droopy-pantsed, backward-capped, tie-dye-T-shirted, goatee-chinned boys. All the girls in the preview crowd cheered.

Movie-biz buzz says "Clueless" is supposed to be the Starmaker movie for Silverstone, who cut her teeth on Aerosmith videos, so the big question is: Can Alicia Act?

Opinion will be split into two camps: To tally and As If.

I unreservedly fall into the former. Certainly a vast improvement over her wooden debut in the guilty pleasure "The Crush," Silverstone's post-post-feminist airhead Cher is a joke, but Silverstone makes her a touching joke, and she snaps off her lines with Major Attitude. And those "Lolita" looks—playful, pouty, baby-voiced jailbait, with animatronic eyebrows and lips, an adorable analogue to Phoebe Cates in "Fast Times," a baby Marilyn.

Just about everyone in the cast has a pop-culture equivalent and that's part of the fun. Playing Christian, Silverstone's star-crossed crush (Hint: He brings videos of "Some Like It Hot" and "Spartacus" over for what she thinks is a hot date), Justin Walker is to Brando as Christian Slater was to Jack. Paul Rudd's Nietzsche-readin', chin-hair-sproutin' Josh is John Cusack crossed with Tom Hanks and Dermot Mulroney. As Travis, Breckin Meyer is this movie's Sean Penn equivalent, but Heckerling doesn't give him the kind of great goofy business Penn romped with. Brittany Murphy, playing new kid/makeover project Tai, can't make up her mind: Marisa Tomei or Rosie Perez?

Parents are traditionally invisible and/or lame in teen flicks, but Dan Hedaya, as Silverstone's sharklike litigator dad, does a drop-dead Robert Shapiro, biting off some of the best lines in the movie.

Whatever. While just about everyone else out there in movieland is making today's teen life look like hell, Heckerling's "Clueless" finds a bit of heaven in it yet.

CLUELESS (PG-13) — Contains mushy stuff.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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