1995: The year the future began
First came news that an adaptation of the 1995 teen classic Clueless is to open in December as an off-Broadway musical.
Now word is that a remake is being contemplated of the movie that turned Alicia Silverstone into a star, in the engaging role of a ditzy 15-year-old, Cher Horowitz.
A remake is not necessarily a fresh idea. Entertainment Weekly speculated a few years ago, at the 20th anniversary of the release of Clueless, what a remake would be like today. It was mostly tame stuff — the slang would be different, Cher would use selfies instead of Polaroids, she would binge on Netflix and rely on Uber and Google maps.
There are compelling reasons why a remake would be a terrible idea. The remake inevitably would suffer in comparison to the original and the likelihood of audience and box-office disappointment would be pronounced.
A remake might make money but, almost surely, wouldn’t be recognized as inspired as the original. And it probably wouldn’t be. The ’90s teen culture that Clueless at once captured and spoofed is not readily exportable across nearly 25 years.
Some of the enduring appeal of Clueless resides in its being a thoroughly ’90s product that’s accessible nonetheless.
It’s rather like Seinfeld in that way. Its charm rests on decidedly ’90s humor, and we still get it. But it’s also clear that it’s of a different time — an important time, to be sure. When Clueless was released in mid-July 1995, the Web was new, the obscure startup Amazon.com was just getting going, the graduate students who founded Google were about to meet at Stanford University, and Monica Lewinsky had just arrived in Washington to take up a fateful internship at the White House.
A remake of Clueless would have to be updated to reflect contemporary culture and social media, and such a movie could seem flat. And exploitative.
Of course, remakes tend to be smart business in Hollywood, even if many of them flop with critics and audiences. Clueless II would face pronounced flop potential.
The original, its admirers say, was a cultural touchstone. That’s probably overstating the significance of a comedy about fashion-conscious high schoolers in Beverly Hills. But Clueless was totally cool about its frothiness. A remake would have to be so self-aware that while it might be frothy, it probably wouldn’t be cool at all.
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