Like a dream, you’ve seen it all before. Even if it’s not exactly true. That’s how teen movies work. In Charlie Lyne’s Beyond Clueless, a film essay on the inner-workings of the teen film, Lyne explores the tropes of the genre within a frenetic, whirlwind of evidentiary clips. For 90s teen buffs (although technically the footage extends through 2004) like me, the film is not only very fun to watch, but at it’s most effective. The film works because it unpacks cinematic high school tropes so common that their fictions become truth. It is successful because it excavates the realities of these mythologies that we have all accepted without hesitation.
Lyne’s analysis mediates on “fitting in, acting out, losing yourself, toeing the line, and moving on.” Lyne theorizes that unlike the “real world” aka post-high school, these four years signify a time, perhaps the only time, where every person is forced into a role. Countless teen movies start with someone informing a new person about the lay of the land. You have your jocks, your pretty mean girls, your burnouts, your geeks. Despite high school being an obvious breeding ground for hormonal erraticness, everyone is forced to embody their stereotype. The jock must dumb himself down. The burnouts sit on the fringes and observe but will always be defined by their mental absences. The underlying urge is to conform: better to blend in than stick out, better to find a group all your own than confuse the cliques, better to wait until graduation to watch these walls break down.
Narrated by 90s star Fairuza Balk (The Craft, Almost Famous), Beyond Clueless, takes on a hypnotic, near blissful tone. The dual effect of a cluster of images filled with beautiful people and bright colors paired with contemplative, academic analysis, can make the viewer feel swept up in a dream. And isn’t that what film’s view of high school is anyway? Something at once familiar, and yet, unreal. Beyond Clueless is beyond fascinating, beyond enjoyable, and a must see for anyone interested in teen movies and/or cultural analysis.
Beyond Clueless has its Philadelphia premiere on Thursday, April 23 at PhilaMOCA as part of the Cinedelphia Film Festival. Event info and tickets here.