Lyne’s visual essay on teen movies is a must-see for anyone vaguely interested in the genre. Using images from over 200 films, teen movie icon Fairuza Balk’s narration, and with an original soundtrack by Summer Camp, every aspect of the film and its design contributes to the feeling that Beyond Clueless is more a love letter to the genre than a documentary. And a beautifully composed one at that.
For me, the most wonderful thing about the film is its presentation. The title cards feel reminiscent of well-loved teen movies like The Virgin Suicides (1999) or Juno (2007), and Summer Camp’s soundtrack perfectly fits the mood, chronicling the teenage experience from soaring highs to anguished lows, and all the violence, parties, sex, and tears in between. Arguably, it is the evocative soundtrack that truly brings Lyne’s thesis to life.
This ambience is further enhanced by the editing and sound design, which work with the images and soundtrack to set the pace of the film, driving the escalation from the slower, more relaxed, and somewhat hypnotic beginnings that showcase ‘fitting in’, to the raw and almost nauseating depiction of tenacious teen urges that are expressed in an aggressive crescendo in ‘acting out’. The film swells and falls irregularly, mirroring the turbulence of the teen movie and the teen experience.
Of course, it would take weeks to investigate in detail every one of the films featured, and so many favourites were understandably reduced to second-long clips in montage sequences. However, the few films Lyne chose to examine in more detail, such as The Craft (1996) and Mean Girls (2004), seemed like natural selections to accompany the narrative, even films that perhaps seem like strange choices to be included, such as Bubble Boy (2001) or Jeepers Creepers (2001). Perhaps a testament to the impeccable editing and organisation of clips into montages, none of the films showcased ever felt forced, and the flow of the film was perfectly maintained throughout.
While I spent much of the film gushing over its practically flawless presentation and execution, my main criticism concerns the content, by which I mean the ‘point’ of it. In his film, Lyne seemed to distance the world of these teen movies from the reality of teen experience. While, of course, the supernatural and horror teen films in particular are not direct reflections of teenagers’ realities, they can still present aspects of them, like adolescents’ dreams or perhaps a particular character they can relate to.
There were a couple of great moments where Lyne implicitly described this intertwining of teen movies and teen reality, for example, examining Ginger Snaps (2000) as a metaphor for the fears and struggles of puberty, and presenting Jeepers Creepers (2001) as an expression of gay panic. Some of the ‘findings’, though, felt laboured, and pseudo-profound, and Lyne never seemed to question the teen movie genre’s white heterosexual world. I couldn’t help but feel the film could have been taken further somehow, perhaps into the realm of the genre’s relationship with its teen audiences, which might also have made it feel more authentic somehow. But, perhaps that would have been overly ambitious.
Ultimately, Lyne’s film is an intelligent, nostalgic and enjoyable investigation of movies I used to love and had forgotten, as well as ones I still impress upon practically everyone I know. Lyne is clearly as infatuated with the genre as I am, and with its beautiful composition and impeccable sound design, I’m sure that Beyond Clueless could inspire even the most skeptical of viewers to see the wonder in the teen movie genre.
Check out some of my thoughts on the teen movie genre, plus a list of my favourite examples here: The Teen Dream on Screen