Director Amy Heckerling knows a thing or two about high school flicks, having directed the highly successful `Fast Times at Ridgemont High’. Heckerling put her talents to work thirteen years later for the next generation of high schoolers, writing and directing this hilarious satire of life at Beverly Hills H.S. Heckerling takes a different approach from `Fast Times’, which found its comedy in the absurdity of reality, depicting situations into which teenagers really get themselves. Here Heckerling’s comedy mostly comes from mocking the superficiality of the high school `in-crowd’. While this is not the first time this has been done, few have ever done it with such blistering wit. This film became the standard for a spate of 1990’s high school flicks set on the west coast that borrowed many of its elements.
The story focuses on Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone), who is the most popular girl at Beverly Hills H.S. Cher seems to be a superficial airhead, but this belies her conniving and manipulative skills at getting what she wants. Superficial yes, airhead no! In a plot derived in part from Jane Austen’s `Emma’, Cher works behind the scenes to arrange love matches between various students. She even orchestrates a relationship between two teachers to improve their moods so they don’t grade so harshly. Like Emma, she is a master of love for everyone but herself.
Heckerling does a fantastic job of presenting what seems on the surface to be a cotton candy story with lightweight characters, but really runs much deeper revealing subtle truths about human nature. Her direction of the fledgling cast is superb, milking every ounce of comedy out of each scene.
Silverstone sparkles in the role, which is probably not far from a reality with which she is very familiar. She actually attended Beverly Hills H.S. with co-star Breckin Meyer, although she didn’t graduate due to career commitments (she received a G.E.D.). This film catapulted her to teen prominence with two MTV movie awards and an American Comedy Award as funniest actress in a leading role. She plays Cher with both arrogance and vulnerability, and her comic timing is impeccable. She also has a knack for physical comedy, with a broad range of contorted facial expressions and amusing use of body language. The rest of the teen cast is also great, especially Brittany Murphy as Tai and Breckin Meyer as Travis. Dan Hedaya is also priceless as Cher’s work obsessed attorney father.
This film is easy to like. It is a light and funny spoof, but it still has nuance. I rated it an 8/10. For those who enjoy high school comedies, this is required viewing.