Rolling with the ‘Clue­less’ homies

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - BY ELISABETH EGAN book­world@wash­ On Satur­day, July 11, at 6 p.m., Jen Chaney will be at Pol­i­tics & Prose, 5015 Con­necti­cut Ave. NW. Elisabeth Egan, the books editor at Glam­our, is the au­thor of the novel “A Win­dow Opens,” which will be pub­lishe

How can “Clue­less” celebrate its 20th birth­day this sum­mer? Has it re­ally been two decades since I fell in love with Alicia Sil­ver­stone’s whip-smart, pud­dle-Cher Horowitz on a swel­ter­ing July night at a Ver­mont megaplex? Over the years, I’ve re­watched Amy Heck­er­ling’s Bev­erly Hills reimag­in­ing of Jane Austen’s “Emma”— first on VHS, then on DVD and most re­cently on Net­flix. And with each view­ing, I’m struck anew by the pre­science of “Clue­less” and its rel­e­vance for view­ers of all ages.

This time­less­ness prompted en­ter­tain­ment jour­nal­ist Jen Chaney to write “As If!,” billed as “The Oral History of ‘ Clue­less’ as Told by Amy Heck­er­ling, the Cast, and the Crew.” Let’s face it, an oral history is the ul­ti­mate mark of a pop­cul­ture icon — and Chaney’s homage does not dis­ap­point. Her vivid scene-by-scene re­caps, in­sider analy­ses of cast­ing de­ci­sions and metic­u­lous wardrobe run­downs will bring you back to your own (pos­si­bly less-stylish) youth.

Chaney, a for­mer staff writer for The Washington Post, checked in with key play­ers (Heck­er­ling, Sil­ver­stone, Paul Rudd, cos­tume de­signer Mona May, cast­ing di­rec­tor Mar­cia Ross) as well as an im­pres­sive ar­ray of artists and ex­perts whose work has been touched by the “Clue­less” legacy. From Jane Austen scholars to Coo­lio to Lena Dun­ham and the Fug Girls, these per­spec­tives shed new light on a movie that paved the way for “Legally Blonde” and a bevy of other films about shopa­holic young women with hid­den re­serves of grit.

We learn about the care­ful craft­ing of the lan­guage, inspired by slang dic­tionar­ies, rap lyrics and teen lex­i­con; the spe­cial ef­fects used to cre­ate the movie’s golden light­ing de­spite record rain­falls dur­ing film­ing; and the many ac­tors who were passed over for key parts ( An­gelina Jolie as Cher Horowitz? Hard to imag­ine, but her name was in the mix). We’re re­minded that many of Heck­er­ling’s laugh- wor­thy mo­ments have be­come part of life as we know it to­day. For in­stance, three fam­ily mem­bers at the same din­ner ta­ble, talk­ing on cell­phones? Once hi­lar­i­ous, now busi­ness as usual.

Chaney weaves a glit­tery web, one that’s hard to walk away from once you’re drawn in. But by far the most com­pelling sec­tions of “As If!” are the ones in Chaney’s own voice. You can un­der­stand why she re­lies so heav­ily on the per­spec­tives of the cre­ators of the film — they’re the ex­perts, af­ter all— but her take is so fresh and en­ter­tain­ing that it would have been nice to hear more from her di­rectly.

But as Cher her­self would no doubt say: What­ever! For us mid­dle-aged Gen X-ers and our ado­les­cent off­spring who still watch “Clue­less” at sleep­overs, “As If!” is a must. In fact, it’s phat! Which is high praise, in­deed.


Jen Chaney

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