Cult Film Crash Course: ‘Clueless’ epitomizes ’90s

“Clueless” has become a cult film classic since its release nearly 25 years ago. The movie’s costume design, script, plot and characters all contribute to the film’s spunky appeal. Photo courtesy of Imbd

What differentiates a cult film from the countless other movies released from Hollywood every year? Why do these movies stand the test of time and, more importantly, maintain fervent multi-generational followers? In this new series, Cult Film Crash Course, I’ll attempt to answer these questions about cult film qualities and more!

If anything has been made apparent through the past few “Cult Film Crash Course” reviews, it’s that the quality that makes one movie a cult film may not be the same quality that earns a different movie the same label. The 1995 cult film “Clueless,” directed by Amy Heckerling, follows that trend. The quality that has sustained the movie’s massive following nearly 25 years since its release is the way it epitomizes everything lovable about the ’90s.

“Clueless” follows the story of Cher Horowitz, played by Alicia Silverstone, a wealthy, shallow-yet-well-intentioned girl. As the most popular girl in her school, Cher often finds personal satisfaction in taking on projects of various forms. At the beginning of the film, Cher utilizes her social skills and skills acquired through her father, a litigation lawyer, to manipulate two teachers into falling in love with one another, resulting in a general increase in student grades, earning Cher more school popularity and approval from her father. Her later project involves the making over and social coaching of new girl Tai Frasier, played by Brittany Murphy. Cher eventually grows bored with her shallow pursuits and, partially due to the encouragement and mild judgment of Josh Lucas, the son of Cher’s father’s ex-wife, Cher decides to begin doing good deeds for the sake of being a good person. After countless moments of drama-filled breakups, fights and mischief, Cher and Josh fall in love.

In today’s day and age, the value of the clique has lost much of its appeal. Movies that idolized the reality of established social circles in high school have been replaced by films that promote the dissolving of such group segregation. “Clueless” was made when cliques and social hierarchies were normal and prevalent school dynamics. Cher and her friend Dionne, played by Stacey Dash, fit seamlessly into the beautiful, wealthy girl archetype. Travis, played by Breckin Meyer, embodies the slacker, skater in many ’90s films. Elton, played by Jeremy Sisto, epitomizes the wealthy, entitled antagonist every high school drama requires.

The script is absolutely saturated with lines that throw viewers back to the ’90s. Cher’s iconic line, “As if!” has become perhaps the most memorable and quotable line of the movie. Multiple characters express their frustration with lines like, “I’m totally buggin’,” and, “I feel like such a bone head!” These little nuances in the script make the movie all the more endearing to anyone with memories of the ’90s or people who enjoy sneak peeks into bygone days.

The costume design of “Clueless” expand upon similar sentiments promoted in the ’90s-esque script. Throughout the film, Cher and her friend Dionne wear plaid jacket and skirt sets, knee-high socks, strappy ’90s dresses and fluffy coats. The guys in the film rock oversized, low-riding pants, T-shirts with button-downs and backwards caps.

Beyond the overarching plot of a young girl finding her way through young adulthood, “Clueless” is made up of countless small snippets that contribute to the intense ’90s vibes the movie provides. Cher’s computer takes up the majority of her desk space — a far cry from the slim laptops students can easily keep in their backpacks nowadays. Scenes on the school campus include shots of guys zipping around on sticker-covered skateboards, an unmistakable trend of the ’90s. Several of the dance scenes involve goofy swaying and awkward rhythmic jumping, moves that certainly wouldn’t pass as “cool” on today’s dance floors. The biggest ‘90’s trademark is the constant snapping shut of huge flip phones with their archaic antennas.

Like “The Breakfast Club” was to the ’80s, “Mean Girls” was to the ’00s and “Lady Bird” will probably be to the ’10’s, “Clueless” is perhaps the most iconic pop-cultural artifact of the ’90s high school drama movies. The movie offers a romanticized sneak peek into the lives of high school students during the flip phone-laden, spaghetti-strap-covered era and, for that reason, “Clueless” has earned its rightful place in the cult film genre.