Imagine my surprise when a double DVD set of Mean Girls and Clueless was delivered to Screen Goblin HQ when I hadn’t even ordered it – regardless of what my Amazon history might say. But I decided to watch both films, purely because I hate to see things go to waste. Regular readers may have noticed my commitment to recycling material.
Amy Heckerling’s high school comedy is based on Jane Austen’s Emma. Admittedly I haven’t read it, but I did go to school with someone called Emma. Or possibly Ella. The point is, this is smarter than your average teen movie.
Clueless is told from a woman’s perspective, its protagonists granted a notably higher level of agency than is usually afforded female characters. Alicia Silverstone plays rich high school student Cher, the best Cher since Cher (sorry Cher Lloyd).
Most comedy protagonists rival Sports Direct in the “horrible company” stakes, but we actually want to spend time with Cher, because she’s confident, generous and witty. She’s hilariously played by Silverstone, riding a wave of success that would be cut short by Batman & Robin two years later, ending her career along with Batman’s.
Pop-culture savvy and whip-smart funny, Clueless punches outwards, inwards and never downwards. Like Heathers before it, the film’s linguistic and sartorial creativity produce a movie with its very own style. It’s way cool.
Mean Girls (2004)
Speaking of which, Heathers writer Daniel Waters and Mean Girls director Mark Waters are actually brothers. This kind of makes sense, as Mean Girls is another film that feels like a spiritual successor to Heathers.
Also set at an American high school, the film stars Lindsay Lohan as new student Cady. In case there are any young people reading this, Lindsay Lohan was a child actor who Hollywood eventually replaced with Emma Stone, hoping that no one would notice the difference.
Cady meets a trio of would-be Heathers called The Plastics, memorably played by Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert and Amanda Seyfried as the stupid one – a role she would reprise in Mamma Mia! by foolishly inviting Pierce Brosnan to sing at her wedding.
Again, Mean Girls stands out from the teen movie crowd because it’s atypically smart, ironic and funny. Tina Fey’s screenplay is as strong as one expects from the creator of 30 Rock, sharply dissecting the female high school experience with a healthy sense of rebellion and endlessly quotable dialogue.
While Clueless is adapted from Jane Austen, Mean Girls is based on Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman, a non-fiction book about high school cliques and the damaging effects they can have on teenage girls. And while Fey’s movie is a stinging comedy, it never loses sight of this positive message.
Having accidentally watched both of these DVDs, I think Clueless is the better movie, if just because it features The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Both are refreshingly non-judgemental films about women, allowed to make mistakes and grow like the men who populate all the other movies, only with nicer shoes.