Beyond Clueless (Discovery Film Festival, 2014)

Beyond CluelessAs the Young Adult phenomenon continues apace, it becomes harder and harder to imagine a time when teenagers were teenagers and not high school musicians, ageless supernatural romantics or predestined dystopic Messiahs. For the previous generation, however, things were a lot different. Cast your mind back to the late nineties, early noughties; to curtain haircuts, flannel shirts and acid-wash jeans; to Melissa Joan Hart, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prince Jr.; and to films such as The Faculty, She’s All That and The Girl Next Door. It was a strange, bygone, misunderstood time — after the 80s, but before the 80s were remade for the new millennium — and it has yet to be properly reviewed. Beyond Clueless — which recently had its Scottish premiere at Dundee Contemporary Arts’ Discovery Film Festival — does its best, and for that director Charlie Lyne deserves praise. Or perhaps more fittingly: a slow clap.

Look at any list of the greatest teen movies ever made and you’d likely think that the genre peaked in the 80s with the films of John Hughes, the slasher subgenre and cult classics like Carrie, Heathers and even Back to the Future. These choices, however, often say more about the teenage years of the film critics and film makers curating them than the quality of the films themselves. In Pitch Perfect, for example, it’s not a film from Skylar Austin’s character’s own teenage years that he feels best reflects that period in his life, but one from director Jason Moore’s 80s adolescence instead. A number of films from the nineties have inevitably breached the generational divide, be it Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You or (even more recently) Mean Girls, but for the most part teen films from subsequent generations haven’t received anywhere near the attention they deserve.

In critic-turned-director Charlie Lyne’s debut documentary, Beyond Clueless, almost none of these films warrant a mention. The Breakfast Club is referenced, indirectly, but the usual titles are for the most part beyond his remit. As the title suggests, Lyne is taking his audience beyond Clueless, instead aiming to introduce — or re-introduce — them to the little seen or unfairly forgotten films of his own formative years. Divided into five sections, the film begins with a prologue which analyses one of the genre’s foremost cliches: the newbie — a part usually played by the inexperienced transfer student. It sets out Lyne’s intentions perfectly, compiling footage from a variety of teen movies to illustrate his point, but also reflects his own position as something of an outsider. Lyne is, after all, an Englishman commenting on the American high school experience, as seen in American high school films.

Nevertheless, he has a lot of interesting things to say that speak to a much wider audience. His analysis of relatively well-known, if critically overlooked films such as The Craft, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Jeepers Creepers are both insightful and intelligent, as are his readings of Spider-man, Final Destination and EuroTrip. Equally impressive is his catalogue of rather more obscure examples, including The Rage: Carrie 2, Bubble Boy and Idle Hands. He even manages to mine Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads for relevant material. As interesting as these specific examples are, however, Beyond Clueless‘ real potential — and indeed power — is in finding parallels between movies. He achieves this on a number of occasions, roughly once per section, but never better than in the chapter dealing with sexual awakening. Against a montage of swimming pool encounters, featuring everything from Wild Things to Swimfan, Fairuza Balk’s hypnotic narration and Summer Camp’s stirring score conspire to strip away character and context to reveal the truth behind the trope.

While far from exhaustive (or, for that matter, exhausting), Beyond Clueless is still an impressive survey of an underrepresented subset of teen movies. For Lyne’s own generation, however, it is much more than that. It is a reminder, recognition, and hopefully the beginning of something new and long overdue in cinema: nineties nostalgia.

4-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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