I'm Obsessed with the Food in 'Clueless'
Particularly Josh's disgusting sandwich.
I've watched Clueless too many times to count. I know I'm not alone. Not only is Amy Heckerling's 1995 teen comedy one of the greatest ever, routinely celebrated on each milestone anniversary, it's also eminently rewatchable. But when you've spent probably hundreds of hours with Cher Horowitz, and can recite the script by heart, you start to focus on the most minute details. In honor of the movie's 25 years in existence, I'd like to pay tribute to my current Clueless obsession: the food.
Clueless isn't known for its depiction of culinary delights. "Clueless food" likely makes you think about Tai singing the Mentos jingle or Travis thanking the "wonderful crew at McDonald's" for making the Egg McMuffins that contribute to his tardiness. But food is everywhere in the movie, and Heckerling manages to make those scenes just as considered as the rest of her brilliant film. For as elaborate and heightened as the fashion is in Clueless is, the food is practically normcore, a perfect encapsulation of the nonsensical meals of teenagers.
Take, for instance, the scene where Cher (Alicia Silverstone) introduces the concept of a makeover to her new friend/project Tai (Brittany Murphy) over high-school lunch. Strewn across the table are a couple of untouched salads, some yogurts, a few bags of chips, and a carton of what appears to be Apple Newtons. Cher hacks a pretzel into smaller pieces, arguing that it's fat free and burns calories that way. After flirting with Travis, Tai brings over some Diet Cokes along with a piece of pie and a jug of milk for her. In other words, their lunch choices are absolutely bad, the visual equivalent of when Cher describes having eaten "two bowls of Special K, three pieces of turkey bacon, a handful of popcorn, five Peanut M&Ms and like three pieces of licorice."
Sure, okay, there's probably some product placement going on here, but the tableau also serves as some cunning character detail. As put together as Cher claims to be, her meal reveals her true immaturity. And while she frets over her dad's health, forcing juice on him, she doesn't actually know how to feed herself.
No one does in this movie. Take Paul Rudd's Josh, Cher's college-aged ex-stepbrother and ultimate love interest. He pretends like he knows better than Cher, but every time interaction he has with food reveals what a spoiled brat he actually is. Josh teases Cher for preferring to watch Beavis and Butt-head rather than CNN, a cutting observation that might have landed better if he wasn't drinking orange juice straight from the jug.
Still, the moment I'm most fixated on is when Josh fixes himself a sandwich. He slaps some turkey on bread with a swipe of mayo, in the laziest way possible. (Rudd has said he is horrified by the fact that he puts the mayo directly on the meat.) And then... he puts nothing away. He doesn't even put the lid back on the mayo! He just up and leaves the room, all the while criticizing Cher, despite being just as much of a privileged jerk as she is. It's downright hypocritical, expecting that someone else will clean up his mess. (Most likely Lucy, the Horowitz's housekeeper.) The way Josh handles that mayo is a clear sign that he and Cher are meant to be together, and that he's full of shit.
There are other food moments worth noting: Cher using coffee to bring together her two lonely teachers; Tai using a breadstick to represent her preferred penis. All these bits with bites add to the reasons why Clueless has endured all these years. These details may not seem significant, but when you look closely, you're bowled over by the wisdom and charm they carry.
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