VOD film review: Beyond Clueless
Freddie Prinze Jr.7
Clarisse Loughrey | On 09, Mar 2015
Director: Charlie Shackleton
Cast: Fairuza Balk
Watch Beyond Clueless online in the UK: MUBI UK / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video
Over the seductive haze of synth provided by British band Summer Camp, as part of the magnetic soundtrack accompanying film critic Charlie Shackleton’s ode to the teen movie legacy, we’re welcomed by the half-whispered words of The Craft star Fairuza Balk: “High school is hypnotic. It ticks and tocks, drawing us into a world we know all too well. From memories, dreams, and most of all… from the movies.”
To watch an entire genre like this, spanning beyond a decade and covered here in over 200 movies, weaved together as naturally as the braids in a prom queen’s up-do, is to witness the onscreen canonisation of a singular teen experience. That is, a singular teen experience as dictated to ourselves by what we see at the cinema, as we uphold the myth of Hollywood high school as a kind of biblical truth. In this four-chaptered odyssey, Lyne has charted a universal narrative which takes the new kid on the block in search of acceptance all the way to the jubilation of graduation, and the promised freedom of adulthood. And that’s a pretty spectacular achievement.
What’s most surprising, and surprisingly successful, about Lyne’s work is how far-reaching its universal narrative manages to extend. It shies away from its titular behemoth in favour of dedicating a significant amount of its time to the sub-genre of teen horror, with significant focus on the likes of Ginger Snaps, Final Destination and Jeepers Creepers. It makes perfect sense: the perpetually operatic mechanics of mainstream horror mean metaphors are as thinly-veiled as the aggression behind every Post-It note left on a pile of dirty dishes. Ginger Snaps’ bodily horror is, in the end, proved here to be no different to that famous Mean Girls moment: “Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die.”
It’s refreshing to see such an eclectic approach to analysis; here, Bernardo Bertolucci, Harmony Korine, and Amy Heckerling are all given equal footing. And why not? It doesn’t matter whether you grew up on The Dreamers or EuroTrip, Lyne here proves you’ll have come to the exact same conclusions about your own teenage life either way. Beyond Clueless is about seeing the value in things the world has sought to dismiss, in Idle Hands’ ghoulish metaphor for suppressed sexual desires, or in Josie and the Pussycats’ pitch-perfect parody of a “system that hides in plain sight”.
Yet for all that Lyne’s film triumphs the genre, it also reveals its darker underpinnings: the idea of perpetual conformity. Sure, it’s a concept that we’ve become so deeply familiar with on-screen and in our own realities, yet what’s illuminating about this film’s exploration is just how insidious those ideas have become. They lie here not just in the make-overs and the lunch-room cliques, but in the swells of sexual desire and in the inevitability of death and ageing itself. And the more we wake up to it all, the more it all starts to make sense. In many ways, watching Beyond Clueless sort of feels like hanging out in the company of Laney Boggs and Kat Stratford, those self-proclaimed outsiders whose vantage points offered them a window to the social systems that rendered seating charts and tactical meetings in the girls’ bathroom as somehow an essential part of teen-being. Open your eyes to the truth, man, and then let’s go hang out by the fountain at the mini-mall.
Beyond Clueless is available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription.