How to Make a Great Adaptation 101: Clueless

Good adaptations are scarce. A lot tend to either completely rewrite the source material or cannot do it any kind of justice. And Clueless could have been another in a long list of failures. Here’s my list of reasons it’s not only a near perfect adaption but has earned its place as a 90s classic.  

1. Accessibility

Emma by Jane Austen was something I would never have come across when I was younger. I wrongfully thought classics were stuffy and antiquated and that Jane Austen novels were shallow romances. It shows Amy Heckerling’s skill that she wrote the screenplay for and directed a film that appeals to both the fans of the source material and introduced Austen to a demographic that probably wouldn’t have given her the time of day. This is essential to have for a successful adaptation; you don’t want to lose its core audience in exchange for a new one. You want to hold on to both, which isn’t an easy feat.

Emma was out of my range, but Clueless fit right in with the movies I already enjoyed. And now, as an Austen fan, I can appreciate it even more. It’s not just a witty, colorful rom-com, but a staple of the 90s, highlighting the good and the bad of the fashion, music, and lingo. It’s definitely exaggerated and heightened to a point, which makes it even more entertaining.

2. Relatability

It’s amazing how relevant it still is. Clueless is quoted, memed, and I’ve seen countless video edits of it all over the internet. It’s not surprising considering how colorful and aesthetic it is, but I think it’s more because it has a timeless quality to it that it shares with its source material. Austen novels are classics, and rightfully so, they’re well written, sharp, and hilarious. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that an adaptation shares all of those qualities. Clueless stands the test of time, much like Paul Rudd, and earned its place as a fixture in pop culture. And who could ever forget that yellow suit piece. Everyone seems to want to replicate it, even men. Yungblud wore a version of it for an awards show. Machine Gun Kelly had the lead actress in his ‘Downfall Highs’ music video wearing it. Of course, no one could top Alicia Silverstone donning it again herself to lip-sync Fancy. The outfit is just as iconic as the character of Cher herself is. 2020’s Emma also seemed to allude to it, by its use of the bright yellow color. I personally loved the homage.

3. Keeping the Base Elements of the Story

The other element of Clueless that surprises me is how easily they kept to the original story, especially considering it set in the 1800s and somehow functions fine in the 90s with very few alterations. That might seem like a pretty easy thing to do, but most adaptations I’ve seen struggle in this area and changed the plot or leave out important elements. I like that while they kept the most important storylines, they also played with a few. Having Churchill’s character be gay was a funny, modern twist that didn’t compromise the original plot. And the scene where Cher attempts to seduce him is hysterical. My only criticism is the decision to make Josh her ex-stepbrother. I’m sure they could have figured out something else—the boy next door, her father’s intern, anything but that really.  

4. Dynamic Characters

All the characters are fun iterations of the originals. They omitted a few, but chose ones that didn’t affect the main plot. Those they added made the whole thing even more enjoyable. Like Dion, her character has some of the best lines. She’s like a more sensible and grounded version of Cher, and their friendship dynamic is one of the best parts of the movie.

Cher herself is a delight. I love characters like her—oblivious, sure of themselves, and self-absorbed. The ones that are not exactly likable. They are easier to relate to than the usual characters you’re meant to root for. To be fair, though, Cher is likable. Most of the obnoxious or rude things she does are because she’s removed from normal society, spoiled, and well clueless. So even though she isn’t ideal, you can never really dislike her.

Josh is also a highlight for me, especially when he tries to act superior to Cher. Their bickering and jab filled relationship is incredibly entertaining to watch.

 5. Having Fun with it

What Clueless really succeeds in is the entertainment factor. It has it in spades. It’s an incredibly watchable movie. I use phrases from it all the time. My fifty-year-old dad even enjoyed it. It uses melodrama, a plethora of colors, and a somewhat spastic soundtrack. Brilliantly retelling an already chaotic story of a rich, well-meaning if not slightly deluded girl, who by trying to ‘help’ other people causes more trouble than she’s worth.

It’s a fantastic movie, and I can’t recommend it enough for a laugh or as a writing reference.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Skye Hoffert is a dreamer, who always had her nose in a book and her head in the clouds. She has spent more time in Narnia and Middle Earth than in reality. She wastes her days writing, painting, and procrastinating. She blogs at inkcalamities.blogspot.com.

13 thoughts on “How to Make a Great Adaptation 101: Clueless

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  1. Skye, this is such a great post! You bring up so many excellent reasons why this movie is so great. It’s one of my new favorites. I love characters like Cher, too. Lots of my favorite characters are kind of unlikable.
    Accessibility is something that’s really important in certain stories—especially retellings, and yet people don’t seem to talk about it a lot, so I’m glad that you brought this up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, McKayla! It’s too good. Glad it’s a new favorite. Their so much fun, and can be so much more relatable. Same, I don’t know why I gravitate to those types.
      It is! Glad you agree.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nicely done! I’ve never actually watched Clueless which is strange because I love 90s movies and Austen. It must have just skipped my radar during the era. I miss 90s movies so much. Most of them were just fun! I’ll put a library hold on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I highly recommend it, especially if your already an Austen fan and a 90s lover.
      I saw it when I was younger but only fell in love with it last year. I don’t think I was old enough to appreciate it the first time I saw it. Hope you like it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I only in the last few years discovered it, and at first I think I wasn’t sold, but then I’ve watched it two more times, definitely sold. The 90’s stuff cracks me up, I love the over the top ness. Have you seen some of the Cher outfit recreation videos? Those are fun, I think FreddieMyLove on youtube did one.

    And I love the undercurrent of humor and yet of caring through the whole thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, that makes sense, I wasn’t sold when I first watched it either. Glad you came around.
      Right, it’s so funny. Yes, that seems to be a theme in the ’90s
      I’ll have to check those out!

      Yes, I think it’s what makes it memorable.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This movie was a staple of sleepovers in the ’90s, and I watched it half a dozen times at different friends’ houses, but haven’t seen it since. When they cast Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, though, my first reaction was basically, “But that’s the guy who played Josh! As if!” Lol.

    And you’re right, it’s a bit of an over-the-top satire of the ’90s, which makes it work perfectly because Emma is a satire itself. Lots of cleverness going on in that film.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really was. It’s honestly a perfect sleepover movie. Oh, you re-watch it. Love that, he’s never going to escape Josh.

      It is! Yes, I love how well it meshed together. Agreed!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great article, Skye! You make a great point about the aim of a good retelling–holding onto the old audience while drawing in a new one.

    I’ve never seen this movie, but it looks cute and fun, and since it’s on Netflix, maybe I should give it a try!

    Liked by 1 person

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