Sunday, January 18, 2015

Review: Beyond Clueless goes into the teenage dream

For most people, the main appeal of Beyond Clueless will be nostalgia. The essay-film provides an exhaustive look at over 200 teen-movies made between the early nineties (the oldest title I managed to jot down was 1992’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me) and the mid-noughties. Anybody who went through and beyond puberty during this period will experience a trip down memory lane.

Director Charlie Lyne looks back at the films of his youth, but he also treats his subject with respect without losing his audience through unnecessary intellectualisation. His approach remains simple. The clips are only accompanied by a simple, original score and an ominous voice-over provided by cult actress Fairuza Balk (whose voice reminded me of Cate Blanchett’s introductory monologue in The Lord of the Rings). The absence of interviews and talking heads actually works in the film’s favour. Our stay in the crazy, fictional world that is the cinematic American high-school is never interrupted by disruptive bursts of reality. In this universe, people are divided into clear categories. Whether you are a jock, plastic, nerd or skater, it’s all about finding your place within or outside of the system. You try to fit in, make new experiences and let lose before departing onto the daunting, uncertain path of adulthood. The ultimate goal of the teenager (and of the teen movie) is the discovery of their individual identity, which is exactly where Beyond Clueless ends up. On the way there, we get montages of youngsters striding through busy school-hallways, experiencing their awkward and/or passionate first kisses and sexual encounters before finally graduating. We are also given glimpses of some Hollywood A-listers before their rise to fame (i.e. Jake Gyllenhaal in a plastic bubble, Jessica Alba as the girl-next-door and a baby-faced Joseph Gordon Levitt) and a surprisingly deep analysis of the “classic” EuroTrip.

On a personal note, I was surprised that I had not seen more of the featured films. Charlie Lyne is, according to Wikipedia, only one year older than myself, but I only recognized a fraction of the films.  Maybe its because I grew up in a different country or because I was a weird teenager, but I have never seen Final Destination and unfortunately only discovered Mean Girls and Clueless in my early twenties. The touchstones of my teenage years were the John Hughes classics from the 1980s and newer films such as Rocket Science, Juno or the underrated High School Musical-franchise. This lack of knowledge did not take away from my enjoyment of Beyond Clueless since I was able to understand the anxieties of the pubescent characters only too well. I also enjoyed the film on a completely different level and discovered films I had never heard of. If, like me, you are unaware of the 1999 film Idle Hands, you may struggle to believe that it actually exists. In this movie, Devon Sawa discovers that his right hand has a blood-thirsty mind of its own and is hell-bent on wreaking havoc whether he likes it or not. And there is way more where that came from in Beyond Clueless. A very fetch experience (yes I am still making "fetch" happen).

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