Film Review – Beyond Clueless

Beyond Clueless still 5

We all have our favourite teen movies that resonate with us on a personal level. We watched them in our youth, at sleepovers with friends, or at the movies imbibing popcorn whilst trying to forget our own teenage struggles. There is something so comforting about teen movies, they’re the perfect films to watch when you’re hungover or sick, mainly cause our connections with them are steeped in nostalgia. I generally as a rule don’t believe in the term ‘Guilty Pleasure’, but I have to admit that it accurately described the teen movie. There are things about them we’d never totally agree with, but we’ll always say we love them.

Beyond Clueless is director Charlie Lyne’s attempt at celebrating teen movies from the late 90’s and early 00’s. The film is led by the distinctive surly narration of Fairuza Balk, star of many a teen movie in her time. With her recognisable drawl, Balk leads us through the film, talking about the many tropes you find in the teen movies of the era and goes into further detail on a cherry-picked selection including The Craft, Slap Her, She’s French and She’s All That.

A lot of teen films have slightly backwards messages, particularly towards sex, popularity, identity and conformity. The themes including hierarchy brought by popularity and money, the various cliques, the disparity in the treatment of boys and girls with sex and the concept of the misfit to prom queen makeover are all touched on throughout the film. The film presents these philosophies and discusses them, though doesn’t pass judgment on the films and their skewed ideology. In a way this is what you want from a film like this, it celebrates teen films but also gives you enough so you know “hey this isn’t exactly the right way to think in a normal society” and that Lyne knows this too. It gives you a lot to think about afterwards.

There are a few slightly more obscure films which Lyne chose to focus on that makes it a bit more interesting, including Idle Hands and the bizarre Bubble Boy; a 2001 film starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a crazed, sheltered goon who spends his life living in a bubble. I was also pleased to see Josie and The Pussycats get a sizeable mention as along with But I’m A Cheerleader, Mean Girls and Clueless, I rate it as one of the funniest and smartest teen movies from the era. I’m also convinced that Elizabeth Banks got more than a little inspiration from Parker Posey’s Fiona for her role in The Hunger Games.

The film is put together from clips of 200 movies of the era set to a score penned by pop band Summer Camp. The clips are curated into montages so as to present the common thread of the teen movie, there’s typical party scene, the high school cafeteria, late night swimming pool moments and, of course, the masturbation montage.  By making something new and not using the soundtrack of the the original films such as Letters For Cleo and Blink 182, some of the defining aesthetic of the genre is lost in this presentation.  However, in presenting the clips out of context this way, you accept them on their visual merit alone, and the sumptuous music makes it a sensory experience. The film is put together in a way that makes you appreciate the unexpected beauty of the scenes.  This stylistic approach reminded me of Teenage, the Matt Wolf 2013 documentary exploring the birth of the teenager. Teenage came into it’s own by the use of Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox score, and as a viewing companion to Beyond Clueless would make a perfect double bill.

I like this style of documentary as it creates a cinematic experience, however there is the possibility it may not resonate with some people. One of the reviews I’ve read online was from a documentary fan that couldn’t understand the reasoning behind this visual process. If you’re looking for something in a more traditional style, including interviews with the actors and the directors then you maybe a bit disappointed.

One of my favourite things was spotting the household name actors looking so fresh faced in their distant teen movie career, Natasha Lyonne, Heath Ledger, Jason Biggs, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt et all. And you will spend a lot of your time racking your brain as to which film each clip is from, thankfully there’s this list online to help you out.

It’s obvious that this is a passion project of Lyne’s motivated by a pure love of the genre. The film does what it set out to achieve, a celebration of a loved genre and does it with cinematic class, I’m excited to see what the young director (he’s only 23!) does next.  This film will make you want to revisit your favourite teen movies and discover the ones you foolishly missed first time around.

★★★

Alice Hubley

Genre: Documentary, Horror, Romance Distributor: Independent Release Date: 23rd January 2015 (UK) Rating:15 Running Time: 89 mins Director:Charlie Lyne Cast: Fairuza Balk
Visit the Beyond Clueless website for information about future screenings

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