In 1994, writer and director Amy Heckerling set out to make a modern-day version of Jane Austen's Emma that reflected, commented on, and even gently poked fun at Beverly Hills-based teenhood. The movie championed young female characters who were simply trying to figure things out while dodging "Barneys," "fashion victims" and "full-on Monets."
But UCLA slang aside, these women were smart, interesting and compelling to watch. They may have been privileged, but they were kind. And by the end of the film, they had evolved into well-rounded, empathetic people who we wanted to be friends with.
There's a reason why Clueless, despite its permanent place as a '90s pop culture beacon, still matters, 20 years later. And not just because we're, like, totally into nostalgia right now. It's because the character of Cher Horowitz was a testament to the power of teenage girls.
In the two decades since Clueless's release, the way teen girls are viewed has come a long way. In 1995, characters like Cher, Dionne and Tai were relative anomalies – especially as they made mistakes and then learned from them to become better friends.
At the time, these types of lessons felt reserved mainly for movies targeted to younger audiences. Films like Now and Then and The Baby-Sitters Club championed friendship, sisterhood and forgiveness, sure, but not in a high-school setting, and certainly not when dealing with sex or drugs.
After all, Clueless's meanest moment is Tai's assertion that Cher is a "virgin who can't drive," which is a moment on par with Molly Ringwald's Breakfast Club character being forced to admit that she'd never had sex. It's the type of painful coming-of-age moment that we'd lost for a while after the John Hughes machine stopped churning, and realized we still needed.
It's also why Clueless still resonates as deeply two decades later, whether with adults (who grew up watching it) or teens today. Considering 2015 is part of a decade defined by cultural nostalgia, the minutiae of Clueless only adds to its watchability, and either endears younger audiences to it ("Aw, those cellphones are adorable") or inspires them to interpret 20-year-old trends in new ways.
The rest of the movie is timeless, too. Considering it was adapted from a 200-year-old Jane Austen novel, Clueless's narrative is just as important now as it was 20 years ago (and with that logic, two centuries before that).
Like Tai, teens still struggle to fit in among new friends while trying to hold on to who they are. Like Cher, teens still try to evolve into their best selves while learning the art of selflessness. Like Dionne, teens also navigate romantic relationships while bending (or not bending) to the pressures of sex. Like Amber … well, we've all worn clothes that have elevated us to a Monet-like status. The film's characters could be anybody, which is why all viewers hold on to them so tightly.
Without Heckerling's remarkably drawn characters, Clueless would be just another teen movie – not a consistent pop culture phenomenon. But Cher, Dionne and Tai stand out by drawing us into their world and reminding us that the experience of being a teen is relatively universal.
From start to finish, we watch them grow, change, fail and learn to do better – all while debating cameos at the Val party, or whether to lie down on the pavement during a robbery at gunpoint. Which, arguably, are questions even adults would ask themselves. I mean, like, what is it with college and cry-baby music, anyway?