Amy Heckerling’s Classic Comedies Transcend Time

Happy birthday, Amy Heckerling! Born in the Bronx on May 7, 1954, the acclaimed filmmaker and Jewish American writer is best known for directing hit teen classics such as Clueless (1995) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). Though raised both in the Bronx and Queens, Amy attended the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan, where she first discovered a passion for directing which would lead her to enroll at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. After NYU, Amy moved to Los Angeles to pursue her film education at the American Film Institute. 

In LA, she worked editing jobs while shooting short films of her own, until she landed her first job directing a feature film. In 1982, Amy directed Fast Times at Ridgemont High, based on the account written by Cameron Crowe of the lives of Southern Californian teenagers. The film was an instant success whose impact can still be felt today, and it rocketed both Amy and her cast to stardom. In the years following, Amy directed projects such as Johnny Dangerously (1984), National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985), and Look Who’s Talking (1989), all three of which represent her devotion to the comedy genre as well as her success in being one of the only woman filmmakers of the 1980s to direct so many blockbuster comedy films.

In 1995, Amy wrote and directed Clueless, a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma set in Beverly Hills. Clueless continues to be a cultural touchstone, with today’s teenagers mouthing along to lines from the movie while showcasing their own Cher-inspired outfits on TikTok and other social media platforms. The immortality of Clueless comes from both its dialogue and aesthetics. The costumes of the film, including checkered sets, tall white socks, and Dionne’s fabulous hats, are specific not only to the nineties, but to the cultural universe that Heckerling created for the movie to exist in. The fashion of Clueless alone calls for a yearly rewatch, even while it makes the rest of us feel, in the words of Cher, “ensemble-y challenged.”

Clueless combines all the classic witticism of Austen with the fast-paced, striking slang of teenagers at the time.

Just as memorable as the costumes is the language of Clueless. Amy worked hard to perfect the dialogue for her script, even going as far as to sit in on classes at Beverly Hills High School to take notes on 90s teens’ slang. The result is a flawless masterclass in dialogue-writing. Clueless combines all the classic witticism of Austen with the fast-paced, striking slang of teenagers at the time. Though Amy admits to exaggerating some of the more out-there phrases, the result is a memorable and immortal lexicon. “As if!” can still only be heard in Alicia Silverstone’s voice, and on Redbubble you can find fifty different “Proud virgin who can’t drive” bumper stickers.

Amy has continued to direct films and write throughout the last couple of decades. Most recently, she helped to adapt Clueless into an off-Broadway musical, which ran in 2018. Amy has won the National Society of Film Critics Best Screenplay Award for Clueless, as well as the Franklin J. Schaffner Medal from the American Film Institute. In addition, she was the 1999 recipient of the Women in Film Crystal Award, a prize specifically to honor women who have helped to expand all women’s roles in the entertainment industry through their own success.

Today we celebrate a director whose films, even decades later, remain a cultural touchstone for audiences of different generations. Amy’s successes in studio directing act as a testament not only to her, but to the talent of all the hard-working women who make up the film industry. Happy birthday, Amy Heckerling!

© Reese Alexander (5/7/23) FF2 Media


Read Katusha Jin’s article on Amy Heckerling here.

Visit Amy’s Wikipedia page here.


Featured photo: © Paramount Pictures, used with permission.


Tags: Amy Heckerling, Clueless, Comedy, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, FF2 SWAN of the Day, Jewish Women Artists, Johnny Dangerously, Look Who's Talking, National Lampoon's European Vacation

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Reese Alexander is currently a student at Barnard College, where she studies English literature, creative writing, and French. Reese enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been published in multiple campus publications, including Quarto, Echoes, The Barnard Bulletin, and The Columbia Federalist. Reese is most passionate about medieval literature, as she believes it illustrates the contributions of women artists throughout the centuries.
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