Beyond Clueless Review
Schoolwork. Sport. Sex. Keggers. Prom: an American teen film is pretty easy to spot. Set in the high school hallways of American teenage life, these films have been such a big part of cinema for so long that they can even be considered their own kind of film genre. So it’s perhaps surprising that there’s not yet been a film exploring this ubiquitous cinematic presence. That is until Beyond Clueless, a fascinating documentary by Charlie Lyne (writer for The Guardian and other publications and editor of the blog Ultra Culture) investigating this very subject.
Setting his sights on American teen movies of the 90s and early 2000s, Lyne looks at various stages of the teen world that we see represented time and time again in these films. Using chapter headings to look at each of these aspects of teen life, Lyne delves into the deeper meanings behind them, exploring how the films portray these subject matters. Yet it is a surprise to learn that this highly uniform ‘essay film’ structure never bores, Lyne peppering Beyond Clueless with exciting clips and montages, then visiting specific films in between these to look in more detail at the ideas they convey – films that you’ll both know and love, and more obscure ones that you’ll not be aware of.
Indeed one of the joys of Beyond Clueless is discovering many hidden gems you’ll want to seek out after watching this (in particular I’m eager to now watch Bubble Boy (2001), Disturbing Behavior (1998) and especially Idle Hands (1999) – a film about a teen whose sexual repression finally comes out via his possessed and murderous hand). Along with widening your own teen movie knowledge, another of the perks of the film is those brilliant montages, edited by Lyne himself. These superbly cut montages that are scattered throughout the film all come alive with the accompaniment of the gorgeous, mesmerising soundtrack by indie band Summer Camp, which they wrote especially for this (in fact the intro song is so specifically written for the film, Lyne explained in his funny and informative Q & A after the screening, that each line of the song is a quote from a teen film). This mix of image and music creates something almost hypnotic at times, keeping you hooked and truly conveying to you the simple beauty behind many of these films that Lyne so clearly sees in them.
This is a film that will particularly resonate with those who grew up on American teen films of the 90s and early 2000s (as I myself did). Yet for those who didn’t and who might not get that same feeling of nostalgia from this, it is still a great and informative watch. With a fabulous voiceover from teen movie icon Fairuza Balk, Beyond Clueless is an exciting portrait of a genre all too often ignored or dismissed. But Lyne’s film makes you want to (rightly) sit up and pay attention so you can learn all you can about these teen films and their potential hidden messages. Well worth your time.