'Beyond Clueless': Film Review

Beyond Clueless Still - H 2014
Beyond Clueless Ltd.

Beyond Clueless Still - H 2014

Youth is wasted on the young.

Young British blogger turned filmmaker Charlie Lyne celebrates a new golden age of teen movies in this mixtape montage documentary.

Boldly embracing a broad pop culture topic with his crowdfunded documentary debut, the young British journalist and blogger Charlie Lyne pens a personal love letter to American teen movies in Beyond Clueless. Narrated in dreamy voiceover by Fairuza Balk, whose high-school witch drama The Craft figures extensively, Lyne's filmic essay knits together extracts from over 250 movies, including Mean Girls, Cruel Intentions, Donnie Darko, American Pie and Spider-Man.

Because short clips can be used cost-free for critical commentary purposes, Lyne's microbudget project features a priceless superstar cast list that includes Robert Pattinson, Heath Ledger, Reese Witherspoon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Rachel McAdams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Wahlberg, Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood, Jennifer Garner and Kirsten Dunst. As such, Beyond Clueless should have built-in fan appeal, even if it ultimately lacks substance. After playing various festivals worldwide, it opens theatrically in Britain this week, with more Euro territories to follow.

Lyne deploys a few inspired ideas to structure his wealth of material, grouping together recurring motifs from multiple movie sources: jocks and geeks, high school cliques, sexual awakening, social conformity, emotional maturity and so on. At several points, he allows the soundtrack by British synth-pop duo Summer Camp to swell and wash over thematically linked montages of swimming pools, violent confrontations, masturbation scenes and more. Credit is due to Lyne here for his deft editing work and witty juxtapositions.

But for all his stylish delivery, Lyne makes some baffling editorial choices, the first of which is focusing almost entirely on teen movies from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. He has written elsewhere about this historical period being a new golden age for the genre, but he does not make a compelling case for it here, nor does he even provide a basic explanation for his arbitrary selection. Thus canonical high school flicks from the 1970s and 1980s, such as American Graffiti, Carrie, The Breakfast Club and Heathers, are entirely absent, while more pulpy recent works — Jeepers Creepers and Slap Her, She's French — are subjected to a level of cod-sociological analysis they scarcely merit.

Of course, any critic putting an anti-canonical, irreverent, passionately personal slant on film history is to be welcomed. But Lyne's profound affection for dim-witted trash like Eurotrip and Disturbing Behavior is hard to share, and he seems either unwilling or unable to try persuading casual viewers to share his tastes. Instead of subversive insights and alternative readings, his narrative tends toward broad generalizations and banal observations: "Beneath the chaotic surface of teen excess lies a carefully orchestrated ritual." Well, yes. And?

Lyne's two chief areas of interest in Beyond Clueless are high school romances and gory horror pics — mostly the former, and overwhelmingly boy-meets-girl stories featuring white, heterosexual, well-heeled suburban Americans. Non-Caucasian actors barely feature, while homosexuality figures only as a source of anxiety and threat to uptight straight males. A sharper filmmaker might have interrogated the racial, sexual and class politics underlying these narrowly defined narratives, but Lyne largely ignores this entire herd of elephants in the room.

The lack of diversity in Beyond Clueless is not a fatal flaw in itself, but it inevitably leads to a subjective mixtape of recent teen movies rather than a more definitive overview. It also sits oddly with the accompanying background montage of clips from darker films: Kids, The Rules of Attraction, American Beauty, Boys Don't Cry, Mysterious Skin, Rushmore and American History X. These stories paint a far more complex and challenging alternative picture of contemporary youth cinema, if only they had not been sanitized and decontextualized into meaningless visual mood music.

While Lyne deserves credit for turning his private passion into a handsome and polished documentary, his reflections on this rich subject ultimately feel incoherent and inconclusive. Ironically, at 23, he may still be too close to his teens to make a decent film about teen cinema, but his future projects should be interesting.

Production company: Beyond Clueless Ltd.

Cast: Fairuza Balk

Director, screenwriter, editor: Charlie Lyne

Producers: Billy Boyd Cape, Catherine Bray, Anthony Ing, Charlie Lyne

Music: Summer Camp

Sales company: Film Sales Company, New York

Rated 15 (U.K.), 89 minutes