Beyond Clueless and the 90s Teen Movie

Charlie Lyne’s Beyond Clueless is a veritable catalogue raisonné of what might be called the Second Golden Age of American Teen CInema (the First, of course, being in the 1980s): Clueless, Mean Girls, American Pie, Slap Her She’s French, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and much, much, more. Mr. Lyne, who was born in 1991, seems to have a sentimental and undisguised affection for the American teen films from his youth (he is British), and has made a cinematic thesis around the culture and narrative thrust of these teen films, focusing on the narrative and visual pattern that emerges around group dynamics, sexual coming-of-age, heterosexual relations, family, violence, rebellion, and conformity. While the scope is ambitious, the film is not as impactful as if it had focused on fewer, higher-quality films, and if the ponderous, dissertation-like voiceover (by actress Fairuza Balk)  were lighter and wittier—after all, many of these films border on camp. What about the style legacy of Clueless? American Pie’s introduction of MILF into the American vocabulary? The ambiguous feminism of Mean Girls? While Mr. Lyne’s point of view is quite clear, the documentary inadvertently highlights the flaws of the lesser American teen movies, including the white, heteronormative hegemony of Hollywood pop culture, the objectification of nubile young women, the glorification of the individual versus the collective, and lots and lots of bad dialogue. For Generation Y, this film might be worth watching for that time when today’s Hollywood stars were young struggling actors.

Beyond Clueless, dir. Charlie Lyne, 89 minutes. 2015. West Coast Premiere at the SF Indie Fest 2015.