Beyond Clueless review: The kids are just as dazed and confused as ever

From ‘Mean Girls’ to ‘Slap Her, She’s French’, Guardian Charlie Lyne’s documentary takes an elegiac look at what makes a teen movie

Film Title: Beyond Clueless

Director: Charlie Lyne

Starring: Fairuza Balk

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 89 min

Fri, Jan 23, 2015, 07:12

   

If you’ve ever wondered about the finer differences between geeks and jocks, motorheads and micro-geeks, and skaters and plastics, then Beyond Clueless is the movie for you. This engaging feature documentary from Guardian journalist Charlie Lyne summons clips from some 200 teen movies to create Every Teen Movie.

The film-maker’s selections are thoughtful and not always obvious when he might easily have conjured with a few clips from John Hughes’ pictures. Lesser-known or liked works such as Slap Her, She’s French and Bubble Boy sit proudly beside Mean Girls, The Craft and the titans of the genre.

Lyne’s definition is a sprawling one, but his superb editing skills make sense of the material. It helps, of course, that teen movies are so damned similar. Beyond Clueless deconstructs the form into neat chapters. Dozens of movies are employed to illustrate such common garden tropes as new boy/girl tries to fit into high school, falls in with cool kids, and, more inevitably, falls out with cool kids.

 

Eschewing the grander history of teens on screen, the film plays out over a dreamy original score by Summer Camp and an even dreamier voiceover by one-time teen sensation Fairuza Balk. Her narration comprises a series of earnest, academic essays. The effect can be dry, airless and short on humour.

Still, one couldn’t claim that Beyond Clueless doesn’t succeed on its own terms. Pitched somewhere between David Attenborough and psycho-geography, it’s a fascinating curio that treats meta-movie-verse high school like a real-life environment. There are some lovely ideas concerning burgeoning sexuality and violence, autonomy and conformity and social constructs.

There is, too, something elegiac about the material: the struggles of unpopular kids in the school cafeteria have long been eclipsed by the young adult dystopian fantasy of the month. It’s just not the same.