mon 17/02/2020

Beyond Clueless | reviews, news & interviews

Beyond Clueless

Beyond Clueless

Charlie Lyne's enjoyable documentary celebrates the teen movie but lacks rigour

'Left unexplored are more outward-looking questions, like why the high schools depicted are so homogeneous and culturally narrow'

Charlie Lyne’s Beyond Clueless, a Kickstarter-funded film essay about the deeper meaning of post-1990 coming-of-age movies, aspires to be one of those Arena programs that takes a fresh look at a seemingly trivial or minor pop form to reveal deeper truths about the culture at large. Don’t get me wrong – I love teen movies and I think there’s a rich seam here to be mined. Unfortunately, because his analysis lacks rigour and is almost as superficial as the movies themselves, there are few insights here the perceptive viewer won’t have already gleaned for him/herself.

Lyne draws on clips from some 200 films to illustrate his points, which include observations like outsiders are a threat to the tyranny of cliques in high school and must be remodeled or destroyed, that such cliques only exist with the complicity of the excluded, and that high school is a Darwinian jungle. However, doubtless because of budgetary reasons, the most extensive clips are from lesser examples of the genre. Who can forget Disturbing Behavior, Final Destination, or Bubble Boy (starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal, who probably wishes everyone could)?

The final credits for clips suggest a more interesting consideration of the subject

The post-90s focus also means the Ur-templates like Heathers and The Breakfast Club and other works from John Hughes, who is to teenage films what John Ford is to the Western, are MIA, although at least there’s a bit of Mean Girls (with a poignantly fresh-faced Lindsay Lohan). Instead there are pale echoes of classics, like a conversation with a former high school star that’s like a dumbed-down version of a similar scene in Dazed and Confused and a prom scene from Carrie 2 instead of the original.

The final credits for clips suggest a more interesting consideration of the subject. They include the likes of Napoleon Dynamite, Election, Gummo, Bully, Apt Pupil, American Pie, and even a Thomas Vinterberg contribution, but it would seem that these appear only as snippets in the music video-like montages devoted to images of the high school hallway passeggiata, sex in swimming pools, sex on dry land, smoking/self-harm/violence, proms, and masturbation (which the narration introduces by saying “to move on, they first have to make sense of themselves”. I suppose a montage of kids reading to achieve this wouldn’t pack the same punch.)

Lyne’s preoccupations, not unlike those of the teenage audience, are focused on the self. He’s divided the film into five “chapters” dealing with themes that recur in the genre, like the pressure to conform, the rebellion against these norms, identity crises arising from the divide between the outward “normal” self and the raging hormonal beast within, the attraction to nihilism, coming to terms with sexuality, and the dangers of staying trapped in adolescence.

Left unexplored are more outward-looking questions, like why the high schools depicted are so homogeneous and culturally narrow – overwhelmingly suburban US, overwhelmingly white (except for Asian nerds/geeks and black football players/rappers), and overwhelmingly middle-income (aside from token obnoxious rich kids); how much are the films just an excuse to look at attractive young bodies with their clothes off; and why do the female objects of desire all look the same (except in the considerable number of teen films directed by women)?

This is clearly a labour of love, and one can only admire Lyne’s dedication and comprehensive knowledge of the field. At the same time, Beyond Clueless could have been so much better if his perspective on the material had been slightly more, er, clued-up.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Beyond Clueless

This is clearly a labour of love, and one can only admire Lyne’s dedication and comprehensive knowledge of the field

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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