Beyond Clueless (Charlie Lyne, 2014)

I previously talked about this essay film in a preview last October, and I finally managed to see it this week after it was added to Netflix. I had backed it in a Kickstarter campaign so I’ve had loads of updates from the engine that is Charlie Lyne, a man who has filled the project with as much man hours as he has passion.

Lyne covers the recurring themes we see in teen movies, taking an in-depth look at some key films on each topic. It takes the form of a long essay split into five sections: “Fitting In”, which deals with characters attempting to fit in and conform to their stereotypes (Mean Girls, Cruel Intentions); “Acting Out”, which looks at characters rebelling against suppression and leaving their comfort zones to break the status quo (Bubble Boy, Idle Hands); “Losing Yourself”, a discussion on characters who are keen to explore the wider world (Euro Trip, Jeepers Creepers); “Toeing The Line”, about characters having to conform to stereotypes or trying to break the brainwashed mould (The Faculty, Josie and the Pussycats); and “Moving On”, which explores themes of characters either needing to grow up or not wanting to (13 Going On 30, Drive Me Crazy). These are neatly bookended by a prologue and an epilogue, which tie the themes together nicely.

The film received criticism on its release, perhaps due to the fact it is an essay film and that is a slightly unusual format. Don’t get me wrong, this would have worked perfectly well as an essay, but the content lends itself to being delivered in this visual medium. There aren’t any topics that fall outside the content of teen films and the production team has meticulously sourced footage from every film discussed, which aids the digestion of the discussion points. The concept seems so obvious it’s a surprise it hasn’t been done more often.

Fairuza Balk’s powerful voiceover further endorses the content of the film, and this is further enhanced by an excellent soundtrack by Summer Camp. The script shows a passion for the subject matter that can sometimes lead to the content being given a little too much gravitas. This is never more prominent than the section discussing Euro Trip, which is one of my least favourite films of all time. I found it banal and tacky, but here it sounds like one of the greatest films ever made – I actually want to re-watch it to make sure I haven’t missed anything. In many ways, this is just testament to the passion of the scriptwriters, particularly Lyne, and can hardly be a justifiable criticism.

It’s a film that won’t do much for people who don’t like teen films and will also be lost on anyone unfamiliar with most of the films discussed. It’s a celebration of the genre and works as a great boost to go and re-watch a heap of teen films.

Beyond Clueless is available to stream on Netflix now in the UK.

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