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Clueless: The "Whatever!" Edition

It's not often that a big-screen Jane Austen adaptation ends up permanently influencing teen culture. (Just try to picture high school girls wearing floor-length, empire-waisted frocks and calling each other "Miss.") But in the hands of writer/director Amy Heckerling — already famous for helming another classic high school comedy, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) — Austen's Emma became one of the '90s' most era-defining films. Thanks to Heckerling's savvy use of slang and style, Clueless (1995) is much more than just a silly teen movie; it's a smart, knowing parody that simultaneously skewers and celebrates the foibles of a very particular type of adolescent: the privileged L.A. rich kid. Leading the pack is Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone, in a career-making performance), the beautiful, blond queen of Beverly Hills High. As earnestly well-meaning as she is fashion-obsessed, Cher follows in Emma's footsteps when she decides to make scruffy new girl Tai (Brittany Murphy, in her breakthrough role) her latest "project" and match her up with callow rich boy Elton (Jeremy Sisto). Meanwhile, Cher suffers through her own romantic misadventures, goes shopping, accidentally drives on the freeway with best friend Dionne (Stacey Dash), spars with step-brother Josh (Paul Rudd), and, like, totally manages to coin a whole new generation's worth of buzzwords, from "Baldwin" to "Monet." What makes it all work is a combination of Heckerling's obvious affection for her characters and the actors' adept performances. Cher could easily have come across as a shallow, manipulative, self-entitled bitch (a la Mandy Moore's hilariously evil Hilary Faye in Saved!), but Silverstone gives her a wide-eyed innocence that makes even Cher's most misguided ideas seem good-intentioned. The rest of the cast is strong, too, with Murphy and Rudd as particular stand-outs (with his mix of accessible, regular-guy geekiness and movie-star grin, Rudd's Josh is a cinematic little brother to John Cusack's Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything). Jane Austen might never have pictured Emma Woodhouse in heels and a feather boa, but no woman with a sense of humor as witty and dry as Miss Austen's could fail to appreciate the effervescent, lovingly mocking charm of Clueless. Paramount's "Whatever!" Edition offers the film in a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (English and French 2.0 Surround tracks are also available, as are English and Spanish subtitles). Extras include a pair of trailers and seven standard "making-of" featurettes — covering everything from costumes to a tutorial on how to play "Suck 'N Blow" — that could just as easily have been presented in one long behind-the-scenes documentary with chapter stops. Most of the cast and principal crew members seem delighted to reminisce about making the movie, but except for some brief appearances in "vintage" interviews and on-set footage, Silverstone is nowhere to be seen. Maybe Cher had to get to a big sale? Closed-captioning, keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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