A full quarter-century ago, a total Betty sauntered into our lives, bringing with her an entirely new vernacular, the dreamiest closet we never knew we needed and a coming of age tale that continues to resonate with each new generation that discovers it.
Also, Paul Rudd. So much Paul Rudd.
Frankly, it's hard to fully encapsulate all that Amy Heckerling's Clueless gave us. There's the '90s teen lingo (totally buggin', full-on Monet), the dialogue that still delights ("And my buns, they don't feel nothin' like steel,"), the certified platinum soundtrack ("Rollin' With My Homies"!), the fashions that inspired hordes of Gen Xers to step away from the grunge and, most importantly, a feminist icon who showed you could be flawed and a bit vapid and still strong AF.
And it all began with a simple request. Coming off Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Look Who's Talking, writer-director Heckerling "was asked by Fox's TV department to pitch them an idea," she recalled to The Telegraph in 2015. "They said, 'we want you to do something about young people. About the cool kids in high school, because all the guys who pitch us high school ideas always pitch them about the nerds.'"
An affectionate take on Emma—the Jane Austen heroine Heckerling had connected with in college—her script told the story of confident, eternally optimistic Cher Horowitz, her best friend Dionne Davenport (both "named after famous singers of the past who now do infomercials") and their group of well-off Beverly Hills teens that, as newcomer Tai Fraser put it "talk like grown-ups" and dress like no high schoolers we knew, yet, ultimately just wanted to infuse a bit of good into the world.
Fox passed, finding the script too female-focused (which, whatever). And, according to Heckerling, it was rejected by pretty much every other studio until Paramount swooped in with a $12 million budget and, after an altogether pleasant movie-making experience, Clueless was released alongside Apollo 13, Pocahontas and other summer 1995 fare.
Raking in $55 million, it was seen as the season's sleeper hit, but pretty much everyone involved knew they had something on their hands. Recalled then-studio head Sherry Lansing of her first screening: "I just loved it. I'm not an easy laugh; you look at a movie and you're constantly trying to make it better. But every once in a while, you see a movie, and the notepad you have is blank—and you just say, 'This is genius.'"
Which it was, making stars out of Alicia Silverstone (Cher), Stacey Dash (Dionne), Brittany Murphy (Tai) and Rudd as Cher's step-brother turned not-at-all-creepy love interest Josh, convincing a generation of girls that they, too, could rock a plaid suit and knee-socks combo and inspiring the slate of successful teen fare that followed.
A cultural touchstone for '90s kids, it's still timeless enough to speak every group of teens who have come after. "Girls and women all over the world respond to the movie to this day because the characters have this sense of themselves," costume designer Mona May recently theorized to the New York Post. "Even though Cher had flaws and was self-centered, her actions come from trying to improve the world as she's improving herself."
So, let's raise two bowls of Special K to our favorite virgin who can't drive and celebrate Rudd's birthday by watching the film a bit less sporadically and reading up on how it all came together.
This story was originally published on Sunday, July 19, 2020 at 12 a.m. PT.