I had a small group of movies I’d watch whenever I stayed home from school as a kid. Among those sick day staples was “Clueless,” Amy Heckerling’s modernized adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma released in 1995.
I must have been in fourth or fifth grade the first time I watched the film, so some of its subtleties were completely lost on me until repeat viewings. For example, I had no idea what Tai actually meant by “herbal refreshment,” and I totally thought she was just, like, really into Coke. I didn’t even realize Christian was gay until seventh or eighth grade, despite the fact that Murray literally says “He’s gay!” after his barely veiled “disco-dancing, Oscar Wilde-reading, Streisand ticket-holding friend of Dorothy” description of his classmate.
But perhaps what I most glossed over was the fact that Amber Mariens, Bronson Alcott High’s Lady Miss Kier-in-residence played by Elisa Donovan, is the single greatest character in the entire film.
That’s definitely not what “Clueless” wants you to think. If you take the movie at face value — that is, from Cher Horowitz’s very Cher-centric perspective — Amber is “Ambular,” the “ensemble-y challenged” “fashion victim” who allegedly wears Cher’s maroon-velvet leftovers. Cher even deems Amber a “full-on Monet,” meaning she looks OK from far away but up close she’s a “big old mess.” Christian is less forgiving in his assessment of Amber: “hagsville.”
But, like, leave Amber alone!
I’m sorry that her fashion sense infuriates Cher and Dionne because it’s not just a “Mortal Kombat”-style palette swap of their own. I’m sorry that Cher and Dionne are threatened by Amber’s sense of self-actualization. I’m sorry Amber won’t submit to being made over on Cher and Dionne’s terms, à la Tai and Miss Geiss. I’m sorry that Amber would rather paint her toenails than watch motherf—king Elton (Elton!) flop his wannabe Baldwin body into the pool. I’m sorry that Amber believes in #selfcare!
Except I’m not sorry at all, because being Amber means never having to say you’re sorry.
Amber is, and always has been, the single greatest character in “Clueless,” and if you disagree I’ve got three syllables for you.