The film Clueless, written and directed by Amy Hecker ling, is an adaptation of Jane Austen's novel Emma and closely parallels the story in terms of character development and action. Although Emma was written in 1816 and developed ideas and issues of that period in time, 180 years on we can still recognize and identify with the exact same issues. This just proves that despite all the radical social changes that have taken place since Jane Austen's time, people and life haven't really changed all that much. The general life issues of money, love, friendship, class and finding ones place in the world are raised in both texts.
From the very beginning of both movies, we can see the similarities between the two main characters. Emma Woodhouse, the protagonist in Emma, is part of the rich, upscale society of a large and populous village called Highbury, in nineteenth century England; while Cher Horowitz lives in rich, upscale Beverly Hills, U. S. A. In both Clueless and Emma, both of the main characters, Cher and Emma, are spoiled, high-class snobs who are looked upon with admiration and popularity by all. Cher and Emma are among the cultural elite and because of their wealth and class they are spoiled and tend to think too highly of themselves.
Relationships are one of the key issues raised and explored in both texts. One of the relationships explored is that between the daughter and her father. Both Emma and Cher have a close yet out of the ordinary relationship with their father, as each girl is the apple of their fathers' eye and can do no wrong. And both Emma's and Cher's fathers are very generous with not only their love but also their money and constant compliments. But with these compliments and cash comes a certain amount of snobbery and I believe that it is the fathers' over-indulgence in their daughters that has caused this. It is here that the real problems of both Cher's and Emma's situations come to light.
Both girls have the habit of getting rather too much their own way and a disposition to think a little too highly of themselves. In both movies the girls' mothers died when they were quite young and at first viewing do not have a major part in either movie. But at second glance we can begin to see the root of the fathers over-indulgence. Because of their wealth, Emma and Cher are spoiled, in control socially, and tend to think too highly of themselves. This is a result of the lack of a maternal figure in their lives and the fact that their fathers and governess (in Emma's case) were too lenient and indulgent during their upbringing.
Another branch of the relationship issue that is shown in both movies is friendship, and follows on from the issue of Cher's and Emma's wealth and power. The snobbery of both girls leads Cher and Emma to, in their eyes, take pity on Tai and Harriet Smith, two girls of lower social status. Emma decides that Harriet should be made into a proper young lady, and that the friends Harriet has already made are "unworthy of her" and "causing her harm." Even though Emma has never met Mr Martin, with whom Harriet has strong feelings for, she declares him as coarse and unpolished and very unfit for her friend. Emma's haughtiness causes her to assume that Harriet's acquaintances are not good enough for her, and that they are holding Harriet back from a better social life and status, even though Harriet is in the social class she should be in and as Mr Knightly points out, "We do not even know her parents. They could be pirates for all we know!" Therefore, to prove Mr Knightly wrong, Emma sets out on a mission to push Harriet forward to a more desirable status.
Emma is optimistic that her influence on Harriet will be more than positive and sets out to improve Harriet and to detach her from bad acquaintances, and to introduce her to good society where she would form new opinions and gain the manners and customs appropriate for a woman of Emma's social status. Harriet Smith is neither a clever or bright person and desires nothing less than "to be guided by any one she looks up to." Harriet is therefore perfect material for Emma to mould. In Clueless, like Emma, Cher sets out to improve Tai, the new girl at school and the equivalent to Harriet Smith in Emma. Like Harriet, Tai is obviously of a lower class than Cher as her clothes lack style, her hair is stringy and dyed a fake red colour, she has a thick unpolished accent and she likes to smoke drugs. Cher pronounces her "adorably clueless" and consequently decides to give her a complete makeover: a new hairstyle, new make-up and a new wardrobe. Cher honestly believes that she is taking "that lost soul in there and making her well-dressed and popular." She proudly tells Josh, "Her life will be better because of me." Through Cher's actions and words towards Tai, we can see that here, like Emma, Cher is not just helping Tai out of the goodness of her heart, but to feed her own ego and pride.
Another issue that is explored in similar contexts in both films is the idea of marriage and dating. In Clueless, the girls express to Tai their "rules for dating." Cher explains that they are not allowed to see certain males, and should only date the men that will help them to get further up the social ladder. Tai is so captivated by her mentor that she does not disagree, even though she is being pressured into ignoring her own heart. On her first day at her new school, Tai meets and instantly likes Travis in the cafeteria. However, Travis is from the long-haired, drug-smoking, lower class skateboarder group, to which Cher says, "No respectable girl actually dates." Cher will not allow Tai to mix with a boy of lower social status, even though Tai and Travis would have made a good couple because of their common interests and similar social status and upbringing.
Cher automatically assumes that if Tai were to date Travis, Tai's social status at school would plummet. To draw Tai's attention away from Travis and to improve Tai socially, Cher makes it her mission to find a proper boyfriend for Tai. She is shown the various social groups of the school that includes a small group of boys that are the only "acceptable" ones. One of these boys is Elton, a rich snob and the equivalent to Mr Elton in Emma. Cher immediately decides that Elton is the boy "suitable" for Tai and immediately sets out to make a good match. However, her plans backfire when she learns that Elton has not been showing feelings for Tai all that time, but rather ones for Cher instead.
The same happens to Miss Woodhouse in Emma. After helping Harriet Smith to refuse Mr Martin, Emma, like Cher, makes it her mission to find an appropriate match for her clueless friend. However, Mr Elton, like Elton in Clueless, reveals to Emma that he actually loves her and not Tai. After her first failure in the matchmaking department Emma, and Cher, feel confused and "out of control." This is where another issue that is raised in both movies appears which is the depiction of love. The arrival of Frank Churchill in Highbury is of great interest to the gossiping social group and Emma is immediately attracted to him, just as Cher falls for Christian on his first day at school.
The arrival of both Frank and Christian in Clueless and Emma cause Mr Knightly and Josh to see for the first time the nature of their real feelings for Emma and Cher as they both feel seething jealousy when they see both girls falling for obviously the wrong types. Emma and Cher have never been in love before and only know the concept of love from friends and romance novels. Therefore, when they find themselves attracted to Frank Churchill and Christian they immediately assume that they are in love. However, as they find themselves becoming more attracted to Mr Knightly and Josh, Emma admits "that I am not in love with Frank" and Cher discovers that Christian in gay.
In a sudden burst of inspiration, Cher and Emma both realise where their hearts lie and finally get together with Josh and Mr Knightly. With the exception of the exclusion of a few characters and minor story lines, Clueless is a faithful adaptation and update of Jane Austen's Emma and accurately illustrates all of the issues made by Jane Austen. Most of the characters and plot parallel the original story but the major similarity between the two are the issues raised, which shows us again that although society has changed over the past 150 years, the main concept behind life will never change.