Cher, Tai and Dionne taught us all


How Clueless provided an education for us all

20 years on - 20!!! - Eve Barlow reflects on what she learned from Clueless. Like, everything, from Radiohead songs to the meaning of the word tardiness 

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By Eve Barlow on

The one relationship that never wavered throughout my life is the one I have with my best friend Clueless. In 2015, Clueless, the film about Cher Horowitz, the most popular girl in Beverly Hills High, lives in the “Romantic Comedy” section of Netflix (what. everrrrr). I'd imagine that in the eyes of Cher, it should now be upgraded to “Classic”, just like her Beverly Hills house whose columns “date all the way back to 1972”.

Next month Clueless turns 20, which, for a film about eternal youth, isn't too much of a travesty. I learned the word “travesty” from Clueless, alongside many others (“existential”, “sporadically”, “Alaia”). We all did. When wayward transfer at school Tai initially meets her new pals Cher and partner-in-crime Dionne (both named after “famed singers of the past who now do infomercials”) she follows them around the courtyards, receiving the lowdown on the various cliques that define teenage existence. “You guyssss talk like grown-ups!” she gushes. To which Cher replies, “Well this is like a really good school.”


In 1995, Clueless was a really good school. Inside school classrooms and Valley parties existed lessons in ways to think (with a high-pitched internal monologue), act (who hasn't since played Suck & Blow at a social gathering?), dress (knee-high socks, applied with the aid of a polaroid camera, never a mirror) and talk (I could do the whole script but I'll spare you the time). I think of Cher whenever I see two people sat cross-legged facing each other. That's “an unequivocal sex invite”. Ponder on this the next time you're sat on the night bus.

Unlike the boring curriculum issued to the students in the film (made entertaining regardless: see Cher equating Haitian immigration to invitees at her father's 50th birthday party), Clueless offered us an education without preaching. Every character here is loveable and flawed. Everyone is clueless. Even the film itself, directed by screenwriter Amy Heckerling, almost failed to get signed off. Chances are that if you didn't understand a joke at the time (as was the case for then nine-year-old me), the characters knowingly didn't either. When Cher attributes her “tardiness” in class to “I was surfing the crimson wave”, I thought she'd actually been surfing. The beach isn't far, right? Her teacher, Mr Hall, looks back at her, as confused as I felt.

Clueless is iconic because it reminds me of innocence, simplicity, my own cluelessness, which I still possess to this day

The script was dumb-smart – and yet you'd die to be quick enough to make those exchanges, which by the way totally stand the test of time (ie, Cher to Josh in the kitchen: “Is that flannel shirt you're wearing a nod to the crispy Seattle weather or are you just trying to stay warm in front of the refrigerator?”). “The buzz on Christian…” “The 411 on Mr Hall…” “The major babe drought”. That lingo was catnip for a fanatical audience who'd seek to feel part of this foreign yet aspirational LA world. It worked. The film was a number-one box office hit on its opening day.


There are tangible ways in which Clueless has made its indelible marks. It produced careers for practically everyone involved. Alicia Silverstone (Cher) was the girl from the Aerosmith videos before she became the teen idol of a generation. Paul Rudd (Josh) somehow looks older in 'Clueless' than he does today. Stacey Dash (Dionne), Donald Faison (Murray), Breckin Meyer (Travis) and Brittany Murphy RIP (Tai) all went onto major roles on the big and small screen. The film industry followed suit, attempting to ape its unpredictable success with more teen rom-coms, none of which lived up to Clueless, arguably until Mean Girls almost a decade later. Its wider cultural impact is undeniable.

For me, 20 years on, my heart still skips a beat every time I see a white Jeep, or spy a pack of Mentos, or walk towards the Tiffany's on Rodeo Drive, or drive past the Circus Liquor mart where Cher gets mugged, which is unnervingly near where I live. In all of Los Angeles, where there are highly famous people lurking round every supermarket aisle, it's Breckin Meyer aka Travis Birkenstock who leaves me shellshocked when he knocks his shopping trolley into me, apologises and sadly does not then cure me via a towel with ice and a rendition of Coolio's Rollin With The Homies.

Every paused still in that movie bleeds with historic artefacts. The silly hats, the As Ifs, the French manicures all seem trivial but that attention to detail astounds. It captures moments I'd otherwise lose to the passage of years. And the soundtrack! The first time I heard Radiohead was while watching Clueless. From hip-hop (Beastie Boys) to indie (The Cranberries) to Britpop (The Lightning Seeds) to punk (Jill Sobule) to unfortunately ska (The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, anybody?), it epitomised that '90s jukebox palette. Clueless is iconic because it reminds me of innocence, simplicity, my own cluelessness, which I still possess to this day. 

And with that in mind, what Clueless teaches me more than anything is that in every person there's the capacity to be saved. Even the girl who delivers the meanest put-down of all time (“You're a virgin. Who can't drive”) receives her salvation (while stood next to a half-pipe, ogling a skaterboy). Life doesn't have to be high school, because high school doesn't have to be high school. And if you make mistakes along the way? Well, as Cher would say: “They were so last season.”


Cher, Tai and Dionne taught us all
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