Clueless. Dir. Amy Heckerling. Perf. Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, and Brittany Murphy.
Paramount Pictures, 1995. Netflix. (3 out of 4 stars)
Clueless is a rather unique modern-day adaptation of Emma. It takes place in Beverly Hills. Cher is the only daughter of a very wealthy lawyer and has an ex-stepbrother, Josh, who visits on his breaks from college where he is studying law. She attends high school with her best friend Dionne, where she takes the new girl, Tai, under her wing. Cher plays matchmaker and attempts to make Tai into an acceptable girl who only uses drugs at parties. After two unsuccessful romances, the first unwanted from popular boy Elton, who goes after her instead of Tai as planned, and the second with well-dressed Christian who turns out to be obviously gay, Tai reveals that she has feelings for Josh, sending Cher into a confused panic. After some soul-searching (and shopping) she of course realizes that she is in love with Josh. The movie ends with Cher and Josh together, Tai with her original infatuation, Travis, and Cher’s friendships with Tai and Dionne in good shape. Clueless, while extremely stereotypical of Beverly Hills, does a fairly good job of preserving much of the original plot while successfully adapting it to a modern setting.
The major characters of Emma that are represented well in Clueless, keeping much of their essential traits while successfully adapting to a modern role. Cher’s superficial selfishness is depicted as a result of innocent thoughtlessness, keeping true to the original character of Emma. Cher is depicted as a bit more blatantly stupid by Alicia Silverstone, but overall she makes it believable while still keeping the character innocent enough to be sympathetic. Cher also still takes care of her father’s health, though he is a powerful lawyer that ignores his health rather than a hypochondriac that constantly frets over it. This change makes his character more believable as a powerful, rich lawyer. Josh is plays the concerned scolding-type well, keeping his character very much like Mr. Knighley’s in that aspect, but it is not quite as overbearing. This keeps the audience from seeing him as too much of a big brother, since he is an ex-stepbrother, which already almost puts him almost too close to a relation for the audience to feel comfortable with for her to have a romantic relationship with. He is concerned with the world around him, and Cher gets involved with a relief effort in order to impress him and become someone he would want, successfully substituting Emma’s actions to make up with Miss Bates and get close to Jane Fairfax. Christian is the Frank Churchill character and retains all of the eccentric behavior of the original character, though it is given a different explanation. Christian’s homosexuality is made believable for this incarnation of this character and provides a convenient cover for their being no Jane Fairfax character. The movie also adds modern concerns for a teenager, such as learning to drive, cell phones, and drug and alcohol filled parties, but these additions are necessary to make the film convincingly modern.
Education is an issue that is presented in Clueless, though it is more of a satirical background element. A good portion of the movie takes place in a high school, in which most of the students don’t seem to take their classes seriously. This is evident in the horror and groans heard from most students in a classroom when report cards are handed out. Cher is especially shown to have very little concern for learning. She wings every presentation that she is shown to give and only shows concern in talking her way to higher grades from each of her teachers so not to disappoint her father. Raising her grade is actually why she endeavors to play matchmaker with two of her lonely teachers, to distract them from actual lack of effort and give her better grades just because they are in a good mood. Cher’s father also shows a lack of concern for actual learning, simply satisfied that his daughter was able to “argue her way” to better grades. Emphasis is focused on the lack of learning desire rather than a lack of access to education because as one of the character points out, “We go to a good school” as an explanation for occasional intelligent phrases that make an appearance.
Modern issues of teens partying with drugs and alcohol are also satirized. Scenes of teens passed out on the porch and throwing up in the pool shows the typical negative effects of such get togethers. Robbery also makes an appearance as a satirical issue as Cher is quiet hilariously and non-violently mugged after Elton abandons her in a convenient store parking lot after his failed attempt at a relationship. While the scene is depicted with just enough humor to not disturb the audience, the robber still points a gun at Cher’s head, showing that danger does exists, both in the movie situation and real life. Overall, Clueless stays very true to the original book while also successfully adapting to be in a believably modern setting. It stays surprisingly true to the original characters and deals with modern issues through satirical scenes much like Jane Austen did in her novels.