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Documentary Review - Beyond Clueless

A look at the teen movie phenomenon of the '90s and '00s.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Charlie Lyne

Featuring: Fairuza Balk



When Amy Heckerling's teen comedy Clueless arrived in theatres in the summer of 1995 it sparked a revival of movies aimed at teen audiences that would last for roughly the next 10 years. The key genres of the movement were comedy and horror, with frequent cross-pollination. Some of the movies became modern classics (Final Destination), some were over-rated hits (Scream) and some were under-rated gems (10 Things I Hate About You). Most however were simply bad, as studios rehashed the same tired plotlines in their ongoing quest for the disposable teen dollar.
With the aid of narration by former teen star Fairuza Balk, first time filmmaker Charlie Lyne sets out to examine this once pervasive cultural phenomenon. Talking heads are shunned in favour of footage from well over 200 movies released in the period roughly between Clueless and its 2004 love-child Mean Girls. As such, Beyond Clueless has more in common with the video essay (a format becoming increasingly popular on the internet) than the traditional documentary. Lyne isn't concerned with the background of these film's inception or their social context, and there are no interviews with former stars. Instead he attempts to break down the genre into its key elements.
Lyne does this in two ways, one more successful than the other. Half the film is taken up with examinations of specific key films (examples include the Balk starring The Craft, 13 Going on 30, She's all That). His analysis unfortunately amounts to little more than a breakdown of each movie's plot, with little added insight save for an interesting take on the homoerotic subtext of the 2001 teen horror Jeepers Creepers.
More insightful are the many musical montages that bridge these discussions. Scored by the UK indie outfit Summer Camp, they resemble something the 14-year-old daughter of Godfrey Reggio might put together. Linking movies thematically, they reveal just how incestuous these films were, with the same scenes appearing over and over; parades of hot high school girls walking in slow motion through the school corridors; made over 'geeky' girls emerging as swans to the surprise of the jocks who had written them off; and of course the ubiquitous breakdown of a high school's numerous cliques.
If you were a teenager between the mid '90s and mid '00s, Beyond Clueless will provide a mildly entertaining trip down memory lane, but for most it's a celebration of a cinematic movement that left us with very little worth celebrating.




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