Review: Beyond Clueless

A new film about the world of teenage cinema suffers from the same identity crises as its high-schooler heroes, says

Beyond Clueless


Director: Charlie Lyne
Starring (voiceover): Fairuza Balk
Running time: 89 minutes
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

In his first attempt at a documentary, blogger and Guardian columnist Charlie Lyne presents us with Beyond Clueless, an exploration into the world of teen cinema.

Visually, it’s incredibly enticing. There are often five-minute montages, which, though seemingly pointless, can be forgiven due to their beautiful editing. Surprisingly, the scrapbook style chapter titles fit well, adding to the documentary’s quirky image.

The music, an original score by Summer Camp, is equally as entertaining. It is soft, dreamy and melodic when it needs to be, but is also capable of being just as dramatic as any blockbuster. The whimsical voiceover of Fairuza Balk is every bit as fitting to the setting. However, sometimes her dreamlike tones clash with the more darker points, making it seem as if it’s bordering on a pastiche.

The documentary’s flaws mainly lie in that it doesn’t know quite know what it wants to be. Indeed, this certainly appears to be the case in the beginning when we are given a very confusing and irrelevant introduction to the documentary by way of a study of the 1996 film The Craft.

Furthermore, the choice of films commented on in the documentary begs many questions. There are, of course, the obvious choices such as Mean Girls and She’s All That, and there are also some very interesting studies of far less obvious movies, such as Ginger Snaps and The Girl Next Door. But for a documentary about teen movies, where’s Juno? American Pie? Instead, there’s a strange mixture of blockbusters and obscure choices. It seems unsure of what sub-genre of teen films it wants to represent. Horror movies such as Jeepers Creepers make an appearance and seem very much out of place.

There seems to be almost no mention of newer films, a strange choice, and the films used appear to be stuck firmly in the late nineties. As a result, it seems less like a study and more like of a celebration of a certain era. Due to this, it is never quite able to back up the points it makes. Though obviously not the direction that Lyne wanted to go in, the documentary would’ve benefited from looking further into the history of teen cinema, for instance at John Hughes’ films.

One fatal flaw of the documentary is its tendency to focus on one film at a time. There are some fairly valid points raised that are overshadowed by the five-minute or so synopsis of the particularly film used. If Lyne had decided to flit between films whilst raising claims instead, it would seem much more like the documentary it is supposed to be rather than a ninety minute clip-show.

That being said, the clips do make a good mask to the fact that the documentary doesn’t say anything particularly new. Topics discussed, for example include ‘fitting in’ and ‘acting out.’ Nonetheless, there are some claims made that do truly stand out, particularly those on sexuality and conformity, which are cleverly spread out to keep the film captivating enough, and which deserved far more time.

Given their time period, many of us will have grown up watching these films and for that reason the documentary provides us with a good mix of both nostalgia and a rare insight into an otherwise overlooked genre. However, nostalgic and interesting it may be, Beyond Clueless is not particularly new or informative.

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