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Now 25 years old, Amy Heckerling’s boyhood cine is a archetypal on abounding levels – including for how it subverts one of cinema’s best assuredly ambiguous tropes, writes Hanna Flint.

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If there is one affair that Cher Horowitz, the charlatan of 1990s teen-movie archetypal Clueless, loves, it’s a makeover. It’s her “main adventure in life,” her best acquaintance Dionne credibility out, “It gives her a faculty of ascendancy in a apple abounding of chaos”. But as Cher affairs the transformation of new acquaintance Tai from abominable misfit to Beverly Hills princess, she is acquiescently blind that the actuality accepting the absolute makeover in this cine is herself.

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Makeovers accept continued been a adumbration acclimated by Hollywood to accord films a bright anecdotal arc, abnormally in adventurous comedies. The artifice accessory of a character’s artful check helps to advance the adventure advanced and accomplish a actualization assume added desirable, with their adventurous lives generally bigger as a result. But 25 years ago, Clueless writer/director Amy Heckerling addled this clichéd adventure on its arch to bear a amusing appraisal of the consumerist, advantaged affairs of Los Angeles teens.

Clueless sees Cher (Alicia Silverstone, left) authoritative over new acquaintance Tai (Brittany Murphy, right) – but creating a monster in the action (Credit: Alamy)

The 1995 high-school rom-com is, in itself, a ‘makeover-ed’ property. Heckerling had been asked to address a calligraphy by 20th Aeon Fox about adolescence culture; she agreed, but capital to focus on ‘the in-crowd.’ In an account for the aboriginal Clueless DVD release, she recalled how, as she drafted a adventure about what could “go amiss for a babe who consistently looks through rose-coloured glasses,” she realised she was autograph a modern-day adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma.

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“Unconsciously I had been autograph an Emma character,” Heckerling said, “especially as she makeovers bodies all the time. She was actual artful in a nice way; she lived in a fantasy of what could be for everybody else. I approved to booty all the things that were in this appealing 1800s apple and [imagined] what would that be like if it was Beverly Hills.”

Just as Emma Woodhouse takes the unrefined Harriet Smith beneath her wing, Alicia Silverstone’s queen bee begins moulding Brittany Murphy’s new kid Tai into her image. In a quick montage scene, Tai’s box absolute beard is done out, composition activated and her accouterments overhauled (to the tune of Jill Sobule’s appropriately abusive bop Supermodel) so that she can become able abundant to sit with Cher and Dionne at the top of the amusing hierarchy. It’s the array of arena that appeals to audiences, says Dr Julia Wagner, academician in blur studies at London’s Queen Mary University, because it panders to our aspirational appetites.

”The make-up, clothes and hairstyles are accessible to appear by, and appealing abundant effortless. The babe sits while added bodies fuss about her. Cine makeovers comedy out a ambition fulfilment – that we can all, with aloof a little expertise, transform into a beautiful, assured creature.”

Tai’s aplomb absolutely improves as she conforms to this idealised angel – but the added Cher teaches her how to dress, how to speak, and how to date, the uglier her personality becomes. Our admirable advance has created a bank monster and absent ascendancy of her. Thus, this vapid adaptation of her acquaintance holds a mirror up to our advocate and highlights the flaws in her own apparent outlook, which is based on the acceptance that anybody should fit into her apple and attending the allotment too. Soon enough, the rose-coloured glasses appear off, and Cher’s angle shifts. “I bare a complete makeover,” she says, “except this time I’d makeover my soul.”

The sexed-up transformation of Sandy (Olivia Newton-John, left) in Grease is one of cinema’s best aged makeovers (Credit: Elvis)

Cher begins the blur already attractive like an ‘after’ photo, so her transformation comes from bustling the balloon of her advantaged lifestyle. She participates in her teacher’s alms drive, gives abroad lots of her actual possessions, and becomes accompany with peers, like stoner Travis, who she had ahead excluded. On top of that, realising that her adulation absorption Josh is admiring to accuracy as abundant as beauty, she starts watching the news, and allowance with her dad’s acknowledged work.

Clueless is a cine that cunningly subverts the cine makeover to actualization how affability is not alone predicated on how commonly adequate attractive you are on the outside, but how adequate a actuality you are on the central too. Though, it should additionally be noted, the blur doesn’t say that absent to attending alluring is a bad thing; appear the end, Cher is still cutting artist outfits. Similarly, Legally Blonde (2001) allows its affliction advance Elle Woods to absorb her hyper-feminine style, alike as she goes through an bookish transformation while belief at Harvard Law School.

A sexist transformation

The another to this affectionate of evolution, however, is the added aged one that suggests a woman is alone admired in as abundant as she conforms to civic adorableness standards. Anticipate of Ally Sheedy’s ‘Basketcase’ Allison actuality fabricated over to attending added like Molly Ringwald’s ‘Princess’ in The Breakfast Club (1985), or Sandy accepting sexed up at the end of Grease (1978). That’s aback the adumbration becomes problematic.

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“I anticipate the capital botheration is conceivably in the aftereffect of the makeovers, which about consistently shows a accepted and attenuated abstraction of beauty,” Wagner suggests. “No one ends up with frizzier beard afterwards a cine makeover.”

In their book The Makeover in Movies: Before and Afterwards in Hollywood Films, 1941-2002, Elizabeth A Ford and Deborah C Mitchell advance that 1941’s Now, Voyager, “established the arena rules for the makeover genre,” through the alteration of Bette Davis’s depressed and aged damsel into a admirable and assured heiress. “Change of actualization parallels change of affluence for charlatan Charlotte Vale,” the authors write, acquainted that the concrete ancestry of Charlotte’s ‘before’ actualization – no make-up, aged clothes, bristling eyebrows, abundant aphotic beard and glasses – accept generally been replicated in makeover movies, to capricious degrees, anytime since.

Pretty Woman sees Richard Gere’s millionaire arrange the transformation of Julia Roberts’ Vivian so that she can be animated to his amusing ambience (Credt: Alamy)

Half a aeon later, for example, two boyhood films featured heroines who could accept been reincarnations of Catherine in the similarities of their pre-makeover appearance. Like Catherine, too, both Mia from The Angel Diaries (2001) and Laney Boggs from She’s All That (1999)  become added socially adequate already they are beautified  – She’s All That alike mimics Now, Voyager’s camera attempt of a pan from the shoe up actualization the makeover after-effects – while additionally application some faculty of freedom by the film’s end.

An alterity of power

However, there is an awkward ability activating at comedy in both films, which is appealing archetypal of the makeover movie. The Angel Diaries sees a queen force her civilian-raised granddaughter to change her looks and behaviours in adjustment to fit in with the aristocratic circles of her birthright. She’s All That takes its cues from My Fair Lady by seeing a affluent accepted amateur transform a beneath affluent art alarmist into a brawl queen for a bet. “At the affection of abounding cine makeovers, the blank are physically manipulated by the able characters,” Wagner explains. “The apparent aim is the made-over person’s animal and amusing empowerment, but it is of account to the (initially) added able characters.”

It’s alike added ambiguous aback a man is in allegation of a woman’s makeover. In Miss Congeniality (2000), arrogant celebration drillmaster Victor Melling and FBI abettor Eric Matthews are in allegation of Gracie Hart’s transformation from ungroomed cop to adorableness queen, while in Up  Close and Personal (1996), account administrator Warren Justice (Robert Redford) controls and refines the career of adolescent anchorman Tally (Michelle Pfeiffer) for arrangement TV, and becomes added admiring to her as she changes. Appealing Woman (1990) sees Richard Gere’s millionaire Edward buy Julia Roberts’s sex artisan Vivian for a anniversary to comedy the role of his girlfriend. He orchestrates her actualization and amenities transformation so that she can be animated to his amusing ambience and fit in with his life, sacrificing her own in the process.

As in Appealing Woman, chic advancement has additionally continued been a key aspect of the makeover trope, anytime aback Cinderella had to dress the allotment of a angel in adjustment to acreage Prince Charming. About not every changeable protagonist’s transformation agency axis their aback on their above life. In The Hunger Games (2012), Katniss Everdeen retains her working-class, District 12 character admitting the makeover she is affected to accept aloft accession in the aristocratic Capitol. Maid in Manhattan (2002) and Alive Babe (1988) see two women from banal backgrounds acquisition their appropriately anytime afterwards with wealthier men afterwards a makeover, but they are both still alive by the movie’s end. Crucially, they are additionally in allegation of their own adorableness transformations – commodity that Wagner believes makes them far added feminist.

“I’d like to see added films area a woman chooses to accept a makeover, rather than accept it done to her,” she says. “Not for her bells or a date with a man who’s accounted out of the apparent girl’s league.”

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Is a makeover anytime absolutely empowering?

Last year’s comedy-drama Brittany Runs a Marathon fits this bill as it sees the titular Millennial allotment to transform her affairs not for a adulation interest, but afterwards acquirements that her bloom is at risk. Brittany goes from a slobby, ample slacker who can almost run about her block to a slimmed-down (though not admeasurement zero) acclimatized runner, whose charge to her fettle has led to improvements in about every aspect of her life. “I adulation putting out the bulletin of anatomy positivity and I anticipate it’s time we bless the way we look,” brilliant Jillian Bell said to me, advancement the film’s importance, aback I batten to her for its release. “How abounding years accept we been told that this one admeasurement and this one attending is the appropriate admeasurement and look? I’m aloof annoyed of it.”

Last year’s ‘fitspo’ comedy-drama Brittany Runs a Marathon was both accepted for anatomy positivity and criticised for assiduity fat-shaming (Credit: Alamy)

But alike a acutely self-empowered makeover like this can be questionable: some criticised Brittany Runs a Marathon’s ‘fitspo’ anecdotal for still assiduity fat-shaming, while abatement the acquaintance of plus-size runners. “The adventure we’re too generally told about adiposity and active is that anatomy admeasurement is an obstacle to affected in our adventure for glory,” writes Kate Brown in an commodity about the blur for Runner’s World. “You may alpha out fat, slow, sweaty, and out of breath, but stick with it continued abundant and you’ll become a svelte, aglow active machine.”

It’s the teen-movie brand that continues to accommodate the smartest makeover takes, with contempo films like Booksmart and Dumplin’ afterward Clueless in abolition the trope, and abnegation its best clichéd aspects. In the former, the advance duo’s dress-up montage ends with them attractive the aforementioned but in analogous dejected jumpsuits, while the closing sees a assorted ambit of girls and non-binary contestants access a adorableness celebration after defective to accommodate to aged adorableness standards in adjustment to compete. In fact, the alone transformation that plus-sized advocate Willowdean goes through is agnate to Cher Horowitz: a makeover of the anatomy that sees her accretion aplomb and reconnect with her mother.

But while the accurate makeover has gone through affluence of iterations over the years, in band with the adorning ambit of women’s belief on screen, what about men? The superhero brand is absolutely abounding of makeovers: Steve Rogers’ transformation in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) is an iconic moment. And in the past, male-led rom-coms like Can’t Buy Me Adulation (1987), Crazy, Stupid Adulation (2011) and Hitch (2005), accept acclimated the artifice accessory – admitting the closing two films see makeovers orchestrated by men who additionally advise their macho acceptance to use misogynistic means to dispense women into either sleeping or falling in adulation with them.

However, in general, macho makeovers accept not featured anywhere abreast as acutely in accepted ability as changeable ones. Wagner hopes that will change. “I’d like to see added men abide makeovers in films – and not aloof Clark Kent demography off his glasses.” She credibility to the success of Queer Eye, Netflix’s hit reboot of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, as an archetype of how the macho makeover can accomplish for advantageous material. “[The show’s] success proves that men can accretion a lot from a makeover, so the man’s makeover should additionally accomplish its way into the movies.”

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