20 Years of Loving Clueless

As Clueless turns 20 years old this coming Sunday, I feel stunned. I don't so much feel old like I did when Mean Girls turned 10 or when I saw that picture of baby Emma from Friends as a pretty teenager. Instead, I'm just in the same awe I have been since I first fell in love with this movie.

Clueless remains, to this day, my very favorite movie. In thinking back on the 20 years we've had Clueless to love, I have some very distinct memories.

I remember being seven years old and jealous that my sister got to go see Clueless and I didn't, mostly because I was jealous of everything she got to do.

I remember being nine when my sister and her friends rented Clueless. I was still not supposed to watch it, but my cool older sister let me watch a few scenes and I was so confused. I 100% did not get what was going on in the party scene in the Valley. "Why were they smoking those cigarettes so weirdly? Are high school kids all this tall?"

Then, finally, when I was 11, I got to rent Clueless--that's when I knew I'd made it. Watching the film, I dreamt of being Cher. How unlikely to be the coolest, prettiest, most popular girl and still be sassy and a little bizarre and ultimately, quite kind. This was clearly the dream.

One day, when I was 13, my mom brought home Gwyneth Paltrow's Emma, telling my friend and me it inspired Clueless. We were so disappointed to not find a Beverly Hills High School full of beautiful people. Years later, when I would read Emma after having forgotten the film, I kept wondering what could possibly be Frank Churchill's (Christian's) secret. Was Jane Austen brave enough to make him gay in 1815? Well, she wasn't--instead he was secretly engaged to Jane Fairfax (a bland character left out of Clueless).

This one plot change, the only significant one, encapsulates just how perfectly adapted Clueless was to the modern young viewer. From the second "Kids in America" screeches out to an idealistic cool kids montage, we're in Cher's world. When Cher opens, "So, okay, you're probably going, 'Is this a Noxzema commercial or what?'" you can't help but be hooked--willing to relate to this girl who has everything you've ever dreamed of, just so you can tag along for the fun.

Part of what makes Clueless so enjoyable is how beautiful it is. Each outfit is iconic, not just the yellow plaid one we all still try to imitate each fall. Each hairstyle feels honest--of course that's how Cher would wear her hair in an updo like that to a Val party. We're in Beverly Hills and it feels like it. The sun is always out and even those in need of a makeover look better than your average teenager.

It's also admirable how closely Heckerling adapted Emma to this shiny world. There are the little touches that she didn't need to keep in there, but we're glad she did--like our teenage Elton wanting the picture Cher took of Tai (just like Mr. Elton wanting a painting Emma did of Harriet). But the novel and the film also both elicit the same feelings. We want to like Tai (Harriet), but there's this constant feeling of annoyance when she's around. We can't help but like Christian (Frank Churchill) even though there doesn't seem to be much to endorse him. We notice both Cher (Emma) and Josh (Mr. Knightley) being their worst selves with each other while still being so charming and endearing that we melt for their love story. The film is a love letter to literary characters loved dearly, showing the viewer how the characters we hated and loved in the 1800s are the same ones we hate and love now and how love stories are essentially as timeless in 1995 (and 2015) as they were in 1815.

But most people don't care how closely it is adapted, because it stands alone so well. Cher is the perfect heroine. She has plenty of faults, some of which she comes to recognize, but most of which the viewers alone get to giggle at. Yet despite her mistakes in judgment, her delusions of self-sacrifice, and her spoiled obsessions with the most trivial matters, she's still a heroine we would want to be best friends with--or better yet, even be. And stop it right there--if you didn't dream about Paul Rudd watching you unbraid your hair with that dreamy, dumbfounded look, than I don't know how to talk to you. Clueless was the perfect high school rom-com in 1995 and remains so to this day.

Where would we be without the insults Clueless brought us? "She's a full on Monet" is the coolest (and cruelest) thing you can say about a girl. "You're a virgin who can't drive," is way harsh and yet way hysterical to use. The dialogue was exactly what teen movie dialogue should be--stuffed with more one-liners than normal people can pull off while still feeling natural, and so believably unique that it feels like the characters actually created this way of talking over years of hanging out.

Watching the movie again now, at 27, I remain in awe of how appealing it still is. Each time I watch, I'm struck by something I've surely noticed before, but never so clearly. Josh reading Nietzsche by the pool while fully clothed made me laugh out loud like it was the first time I'd seen it.

So, thank you, Amy Heckerling, Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Brittany Murphy, Stacey Dash, Donald Faison, and everyone else who helped make Clueless, for giving us this joyfully odd, sweet, and funny movie. I'm sure I'll feel the same way when Clueless turns 50 as I do as it turns 20, and for that, I'm extremely grateful.