Clueless Was Good.

Ta-Nehisi posts a video of Gene Siskel (still deeply missed) and Roger Ebert critiquing Clueless when it came out:

He adds: “Poorly drawn movies tend to depend on poorly drawn characters. And poorly drawn black characters almost always descend into stereotype and cartoon. Not that I’m an expert on Teen Movies, but I can’t really think of another one–pre-Clueless–that had African-American kids in strong supporting roles, looking like we look, which is to say, like human beings. ”

I think he’s right. Dionne and Murray were Cher’s friends who were black, not Cher’s black friends. And it was crystal clear to me why Cher and Dionne were BFFs — they were similar. And yet, Dionne’s and Murray’s blackness was imbued into their roles through the writing and Stacey Dash’s and Donald Faison’s performances.

But more than this, what Siskel and Ebert’s review reminds me is that Clueless was really good. Cher was intelligent, even if she couldn’t pronounce “Haitians,” and the characters in the film were all really well written (aside, perhaps, from villainous Elton). Warmth and strength and kindness and sharp quips were threaded throughout the film. As quadmoniker wrote below, female directors bring perspectives to filmmaking that are invaluable. I certainly think Amy Heckerling made magic with Clueless that very few men (or women) could have made.

And on the impetus for this post — the death of actress Brittany Murphy, who was Tai to the point that I can’t imagine anyone else in that role — check this essay from Alyssa Rosenberg, who writes: “Onscreen or off, she never quite surpassed the role that launched her career: the endearing and genuine newcomer who rises to the top simply by being herself.” I think Alyssa is right.

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  • When characters aren’t written as the token black person they always seem to shine more times than not. Dionne and Murray remind me of the “Saved by the Bell” character Lisa Turtle.

  • starfishncoffee

    Yes, it was very good and that’s due in large part to it’s source material. It is based on Jane Austen’s Emma and is possibly one of the best film interpretations of a Jane Austen novel. Amy Heckerling is also an incredibly talented director and the cast is stellar. This movie is a classic.

    • I’ve always thought so too. My purist friends (The one’s who watched the achingly long, dry, way-too-faithful A&E Pride and Prejudice mini-series over and over) though it was sacrilege for me to say that, but there are ways in which this is much truer to Austen’s spirit and humor. It’s also of its time and place with the same amount of detail as Austen. It’s not the best interpretation, though, because that goes to Emma Thompson’s Sense & Sensibility.

      • shani-o

        I totally, totally agree with all of the above.

  • The charcaters Dionne and Murray may not be like MOST black people or like any of the black people most of us know, but there are certianly black people like Dionne and Murray. The statement “Dionne and Murray were Cher’s friends who were black, not Cher’s black friends” implies that there is a litmus test for being black and these characters didn’t pass it.

    Sadly, hilariously, charmingly, and alarmingly, I went to college with a couple of Dionne’s and Murray’s. They thought the rest of us black folks were weird–probably because they didn’t know anyone like us. In that sense, they were as clueless as Cher.

    • shani-o

      That’s not what I was saying at all. I don’t believe in litmus tests for, or essentializing blackness. We even have a post banning that sort of thing from the comments.

      What I was saying was that Dionne and Murray were people first, not tokens or quota-filling black friends — and that their blackness wasn’t forced, but it wasn’t ignored. I love their characters in the film, although I’ve never met anyone like that in real life.

      • Ah, I misunderstood your post. Yes, I think the scene(s) where Murray rips Dionne about her extensions are hilarious–extensions are definitely part of the experience of being black even if you don’t wear them because you understand intimately WHY black people wear them. Just one of the places in the movie that spoke to their identity as black people without making them stereotypical.

  • geo

    one of my favorite movies. i remember watching Clueless for the first time and thinking “they are just alike.” dionne and murray never crossed my mind back then and now as if the director or producers said “we need some black faces.”

  • Ladyfresh

    you know i didn’t realize paul rudd was in clueless, it’s been awhile since ive seen it.

  • At first I went because fine-ass Stacey Dash was in it. But then i found that the shit was actually hilarious.

    No lie, I’ve seen this movie probably like 20 times. There was a point where I could recite the whole thing, line by line.

    • blackink12

      I, too, came for Stacey Dash and then found myself actually liking the movie. And it’s a film that’s easily rewatchable (sp?). If I see “Clueless” on TV, I almost always stay on the channel for a bit.

      Years later, I found it amazing that Murphy was the same girl who played Tai. Looked like completely different people.

  • Every time I watch it, I see something new. Last night, I watched it with a friend who had never seen the film. He definitely could see why it garnered so much critical acclaim and success at the time of it’s release and continues to be a favorite.

  • steve

    its one of those movies that you CANT bore from watching.

    Also being older, certain things make me laugh that wouldnt have then.

  • Aisha

    I’ve watched it more times than I can count. When it first came out I didn’t want to see it because I’m not big on comedy. Overtime it’s become one of my favorite movies.