Truth and Movies

Beyond Clueless

Review by Chris Blohm @chrisblohm

Directed by

Charlie Lyne

Starring

Fairuza Balk

Anticipation.

A very personal take on an unheralded sub-genre.

Enjoyment.

Lyne’s enjoyable debut offers a robust dissection of the teenage psyche, albeit one undertaken with a blunt knife.

In Retrospect.

Scattershot, sure, but still lots to admire.

Charlie Lyne’s debut feature is a dizzying and dedicated essay on the previously unheralded genre of teen movies.

Beyond Clueless is the occasionally bewildering, often beguiling debut feature from filmmaker and journalist Charlie Lyne, whose dedication to the teen movie cause is not only beyond question, it could well be medically certifiable. His film is many things. Quite literally, in fact: Lyne spent a year sourcing footage from 220 movies from the 1990s to the early 2000s in order to achieve the full, phantasmagoric effect. The end result is an indulgent curio: a teenage daydream, an essay film and a cinephile pilgrimage of sorts.

The film’s greatest secret, however, and perhaps its most illicit thrill, is that it’s not really about teen movies at all. It’s a testament of youth that cleverly hijacks the tropes and trickery of teen movies in order to explore the phases of adolescence in all their pubescent, sex-stained, apocalyptic glory. What’s more, while the chapter headings suggest some kind of quasi-literary structure, Beyond Clueless is no John Green style fantasia; rather, the film is a descent into Hell.

It’s significant that a number of the clips seem to be mined from horror films, titles like 1998’s Disturbing Behavior and 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer. The conclusions aren’t exactly profound (Idle Hands is about masturbation, Ginger Snaps is about menstruation), but the realisation of teen life as sheer, unadulterated horror is a fun and radical conceit that Lyne grabs by the horns. This demonic spirit is reinforced by an outstanding original score by Summer Camp: it hums, purrs, rumbles and shrieks in all the right places.

Lyne’s narrator of choice for this macabre chronicle is Fairuza Balk, herself a teen movie veteran as one of the stars of 1996 witchcraft parable The Craft. The opening sequence in Beyond Clueless presents The Craft as a paean to non-conformity, setting the tone (studious, academic, maybe just a little too obvious) for much of what follows. Alas, Balk’s sultry timbre clashes with the earnestness of Lyne’s script, and the narration often ends up simply pointing out what’s happening on-screen. As a result, some of Beyond Clueless feels like listening to a Wikipedia entry read aloud by an expert chanteuse.

Having said that, there’s plenty of joy in seeing this material projected and reflected in the same place, and the film works best when Lyne’s natural irreverence sneaks in through the cracks. The moment whenhe skewers 13 Going on 30 is dazzlingly on point, while his clinical dismemberment of both Jeepers Creepers and EuroTrip (and their respective gay subtexts) is particularly gratifying.

And the director’s general enthusiasm for lesser known, under-the-radar fare like Josie and the Pussycats and Slap Her, She’s French! (neither of which should ever be screened to a paying audience again) is both admirable and strangely infectious. Audiences could probably manage without a second “orgasm” montage, however, which is coupled with that shot of Danny Dyer indulging in a little self-reflection in Human Traffic. Now that’s real horror.

Published 23 Jan 2015

Tags: Charlie Lyne Fairuza Balk

Anticipation.

A very personal take on an unheralded sub-genre.

Enjoyment.

Lyne’s enjoyable debut offers a robust dissection of the teenage psyche, albeit one undertaken with a blunt knife.

In Retrospect.

Scattershot, sure, but still lots to admire.

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