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After starring in a number of Aerosmith music videos, young, blonde starlet Alicia Silverstone was poised for superstardom, and while she had a couple of less-than-memorable parts in some minor films, it was when she landed the lead in a smart, satirical look at life in and around a Beverly Hills high school that catapulted her to international fame. Playing an ingenue named Cher, she is a fashion leader and social butterfly, a girl at the top of the popularity pile yet is exactly opposite what the stereotype predicts, even if she isn’t all that knowledgable of much beyond her admittedly narrow bubble.
The film was released in North America in July of 1995 and become a surprise hit, earning big box office numbers and winning over critics. Written and directed by Amy Heckerling, who was perhaps best known for Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), the film quickly become a cult favorite and has developed a legacy for its style, materialism, girl-power and more, still as strong twenty years on as it was then.
The first official trailer was two minutes and thirty-two seconds long, spending nearly all of it right on Cher as she takes us through a day in the life at school and is mostly setups for one liners, a common practice in previews, but there are a few hidden gems that make this a classic.
Early in the trailer, we cut to a scene during gym class as the girls are about to practice tennis. The camera sweeps right to left past a group of girls in their phys-ed uniforms with most of them chatting away on their giant cellular phones (some are flip-phones!). What makes this great is how it’s a full twelve years prior to the first true smart phones, before the ubiquitousness of their use would come to dominate our
enslaved progressive population. At the time of the film, having a personal cell phone was, as poked fun at in the film, thought of as only for the wealthy. The commentary the trailer is making concerns the idea that talking on your phone outside is perceived as uncouth and haughty, yet that message is all but lost now as the idea of not having a phone outside is practically paralyzing. Can you imagine?
The trailer isn’t without some hiccups though. There’s a curious moment when Cher is driving with Dionne (Stacey Dash) in Cher’s Jeep and she takes a sharp right turn and runs a stop sign, to which Cher says, “I totally paused” after Dionne calls her out. She goes on to make an excuse about how driving with platform shoes is not so easy. It’s cute bit but she then bumps into some parked cars along the … hold on … freeze that frame!
Wait a minute. Is that Cher? And what about Dionne? She’s … she’s a he? Where’s her hat? And aren’t we in Beverly Hills? In 1995? Why is there a 1978 Pontiac Firebird Tans Am Gold Se parked on the road. From New York. And where did the palm trees go? What’s happening in this shot? What’s cool though is that they took the time to make sure the license plate on the Jeep was right for both the images of the Jeep with Cher and Dionne driving down the road and when it crashes into the parked cars but not the people in it.
Let’s move on to a now iconic moment that after the film released become a short-lived catch-phrase. At about the half-way point, Cher, in her now classic yellow plaid matching jacket, four-button sweater vest and pleated skirt (that’s a sentence I actually typed) is walking into school when a random dude with a backwards baseball cap on his head and mandatory headphones wrapped around his neck jumps her and literally tries to get a kiss, to which Cher physically has to wrestle him off, pushing him forcefully away.
Meanwhile, no one tries to help her. Seriously. This just happens. In fact the guy right behind them smiles as though he’s like, yeah, that’s totally cool, wish I did that. Sure, we don’t know the relationship of these two because it’s only the trailer, but she is obviously pretty repulsed and more so, it feels like something she deals with fairly often. That’s kind of the point. But she really has to get rough with this guy, and yeah, he disappears, but wow. When was this ever acceptable? Played for a joke about her high standards, of which she absolutely one-hundred percent deserves to make, the trailer makes it like she’s a bit snobby and is meant to be funny but the only funny thing about it now is how it totally isn’t. That’s probably the point, too.
I also like this subtle bit they do with Tai (Brittany Murphy), the new dorky-type girl who comes to be Cher’s project in the movie, a girl who they think needs a total makeover. For much of the trailer, she is wearing a Troll head T-shirt, a nod to who … or rather what … she is meant to represent in the eyes of the callous boys in the school who don’t notice her. She becomes transformed of course and the Troll vanishes, but it’s a clever bit of wardrobing that really adds some nice depth to the character, especially since that particular brand of Troll are considered collectible and adorable.
The trailer does makes some funny bits about sex of course, one where we learn that Cher is still a virgin, a standard theme in teen coming-of-age movies, as she explains to Cher and Tai that she’s not a prude, just highly-selective in guys, saying that, come on, see how picky she is about her shoes, and they only go on her feet. That’s funny stuff, and I love how the whole time Tai is holding on to a rather phallic-looking bread stick as the brief scene unfolds. It’s not-so-obvious visual gags like that which really give the film it’s edge. What’s even better is that Cher’s virginity, or more so her choice, is not looked on as a flaw, but rather a positive.
And then the classic trailer closer when we see Cher and Dionne at the tennis court again, this time standing with arch-nemesis Amber (Elisa Donovan) who is trying to get out of the drill by telling the gym coach that her plastic surgeon warned her that she shouldn’t do any activities where balls fly at her nose, prompting Dionne to reply, “Well, there goes your social life.” Yikes. For a trailer in the 90s, that’s a pretty risky line of dialogue but it somehow made the cut and it’s a super sharp stinger to end the clip.
The Clueless trailer does a great job of setting the tone and expectations for the film without spoiling all the good parts of it either. Silverstone’s effortlessly charming smile and personality totally sell this and while the decade was in a state of flux with its teen drama where more heavy-handed themes were becoming mainstream, including drugs and sexuality, Clueless somehow manages to get across a great message about consumerism without being preachy and staying accessible to its target audience. It’s a classic trailer.