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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Clueless (Yep, it's Austen!)

I was 11 or 12 when Clueless came out.  I loved it, of course, and was one of the many, many girls spouting "As if!"s and  "Whatever!"s all over the place for ever afterwards.  Years later, when I first read Emma, I had a moment where I thought, wait a minute -- I know this story.  It was this niggling little thought at the back of my head that I initially dismissed as the result of having seen the Gwyneth Paltrow version first.
But subsequent readings and a Clueless marathon later, and I had the epiphany that I'm sure wasn't really needed, as it's common knowledge -- Clueless was director Amy Heckerling's witty and irreverent take on Austen's classic tale of a busybody matchmaker.

So, if you didn't know, here's a quick rundown of the characters:

Cher Horowitz = Emma Woodhouse
Dionne = Miss Taylor
Tai = Harriet Smith
Josh = Mr. Knightley
Mel = Mr. Woodhouse
Christian = Frank Churchill
Miss Geist = Mrs. Weston
Travis Birkenstock = Robert Martin
Elton = Mr. Elton
Amber = Mrs. Elton

(<--- The "new" Harriet, Emma and Mrs. Weston)

Favorite scenes: Of course, Emma,   I mean Cher, is up to the old match-making and make-over tricks: I love her conniving plots to bring together lonely teachers Miss Geist and Mr Hall, as well as her complete overhaul of uncouth but cute new girl Tai.  Perhaps my favorite scenes, though, are those that give us a funny new spin on the classic.  The car confrontation between Cher and Elton is a brilliant play on the winter carriage scene between Emma and Mr Elton, when Emma finally begins to realize what a fool she's been.  Continuing on in that vein, I love when Tai/Harriet confesses her love for Josh/Knightley, and Cher/Emma really realizes what a fool she's been, and that she in fact loves him; consider this quote from when Emma realizes she has made a muddle of everything:
"She saw it all with a clearness which had never blessed her before. How improperly had she been acting by Harriet! How inconsiderate, how indelicate, how irrational, how unfeeling had been her conduct! What blindness, what madness, had led her on! It struck her with dreadful force, and she was ready to give it every bad name in the world. "
 and now from Clueless:
"Everything I think and everything I do is wrong.  I was wrong about Elton, I was wrong about Christian, and now Josh hated me.  It all boiled down to one inevitable conclusion: I was just totally clueless.  Oh, and this Josh and Tai thing was just wigging me more than anything.  I mean, what was my problem?  Tai is my pal, I don't begrudge her a boyfriend.  I really -- ooh, I wonder if they have that in my size?"
Another thing worth mentioning: the interactions between Cher and Christian (Emma and Frank Churchill) are simply delicious.  In the book there is this sort of dramatic irony at play, where the reader knows there is something a little off in Churchill and his attentions to Emma; in Clueless, this is capitalized on in an absolutely brilliant, hilarious way...

The Verdict: Clueless is one of those great little inside jokes for Austen lovers.  Amy Heckerling did an absolutely fabulous job with the script and direction, bringing Emma foward in a fun, relevant way.  The entire movie is littered with references to the original, though it's not so bogged down in them as to be unwatchable by people who don't know or haven't read Emma.  If you've never watched it because you dismiss it as teen fluff, I'd say give it a try.  Seeing Jeremy Sisto play self-important Elton will give you the immediate Emma connection, and from then on, you won't look back.


  1. i think it was my third or fourth time watching clueless when i finally realized it's jane austen's emma. and i loved it all the more when i did!

  2. I'm going to have to re-watch this movie. I saw it years ago and now i'm going to have to watch it for the references. ^^

  3. I have this movie. It is a great updated version. However, Bridget Jones is still my favorite.

  4. I had read Emma first, and when I watched Clueless it gave me this nagging feeling that I knew the story from somewhere else. LOVED IT. Thanks for reminding me.

    Of all the modern Austen remakes, though, Briget Jones' Diary has got to be my favorite.

  5. yes, Yes, YES - totally agree. i loved this movie tooo! i'm planning on a re-watch and review sometime this week ;-D

  6. I'm embarrassed that I never saw the Austen connection until now. Although, truth to be told, I never got the chance to watch this until the end when they aired it on TV :/

  7. Love it! I plan to watch and review this one too :)

  8. Clueless is one of the best adaptations of an Austen novel ever. I love the movie because I love Emma and because it's just so good, funny, and sparkling on its own. Amy Heckerling did a fantastic job with it.


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