I’ve really been procrastinating on finishing up my Emma adaptation reviews, I know. I wasn’t sure if I should review these two modern versions or not. For one thing, though I found both enjoyable, I’m not the biggest fan. And I don’t have a copy of either right now to rewatch and take screencaps from. (I did buy Aisha on DVD but lent it to a friend and haven’t gotten it back yet!). But I really want to get Jane Austen over with so I don’t forget even more, so I decided to just go from memory! I’ll try the best I can.
Clueless (1995) stars Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz. Like Emma, she is rich and lives with her single father (IIRC, her mother died during plastic surgery, but I may be wrong). Here she is only 15 and already has her own car (before she even has a license!) and spends most of her time with her best friend, Dionne (no book equivalent). The Mr. Knightley character is played by her ex step-brother, Josh, played by Paul Rudd. The movie loosely follows a lot of Emma‘s plotlines. Cher hooks up two of her teachers and from there gets it into her head to be a matchmaker. She decides to give this version’s Harriet Smith, new girl Tai (Brittany Murphy), a makeover and to hook her up with Elton. She convinces Tai that her crush, stoner Travis, is no good. Things backfire for her when her matchmaking plans not only fail but Tai eclipses her as the most popular girl. She goes after Christian (Frank Churchill), and although he’s not a cad like Frank in the book, he has other reasons for not going for Cher.
Some people think Clueless is the best adaptation of Emma, but I’d have to disagree. I did quite enjoy it and even used to watch the TV spinoff…I was in grade school, okay! I blame this movie for popularizing Valley Girl speak throughout the country, but that’s another story. I really liked the characters of Cher and Josh and their sibling-esque rivalry that blossomed into love and a lot of the parallels with the book were funny, but this isn’t one of my favorite movies or even adaptations. I found many of the characters just annoying and not charming at all. I also think this movie treated some inappropriate behaviors too lightly. Maybe I’m just too traditional, but all of the references to sex and pot smoking (Cher disapproves of Travis constantly being stoned but feels no qualms about occasionally smoking a joint at a party) made me a bit uncomfortable. Cher also seemed to think she was the last virgin left at her high school, and tried miserably to seduce Christian. Tai, despite being a “loser”, oddly has had plenty of sexual experience. The characters were only 15 years old, for Christ’s sake! I suppose stuff like this is more realistic (or even not realistic enough!) but part of the reason I watch period films is to escape from reality. I suppose that’s why this updated version bothered me a bit. My Rating: 7/10.
Aisha, which just came out last summer, is Bollywood’s version of a modern Emma. Set in the high society of Delhi, it follows Aisha in her misguided matchmaking attempts. Like Emma and Cher, Aisha is a spoiled rich girl who means well but is really clueless. This one follows the book a little more closely than Clueless did and includes more characters, like the John Knightleys and Jane Fairfax (Aarti). Here, the Miss Taylor character is Aisha’s aunt. This version’s Knightley (Arjun) is still her childhood friend and brother-in-law’s brother, but younger this time. Emma dislikes Aarti, his colleague from America, but she doesn’t realize it’s because she’s jealous. Dhruv (Frank Churchill) is her new uncle’s son and they flirt for a little bit but she’s just not that into him so he goes for Aarti instead. There is an Elton character, but he’s not a pompous jerk at all, just a bit dorky.
I thought this version borrowed too many elements from Clueless rather than Emma. Maybe that’s inevitable in a modern setting, but I’m not sure. Aisha has a best friend, Pinky, who’s only equivalent is Dionne. She disapproves of Pinky’s love interest (I won’t give away who it is!), like Cher did to Dionne. Like Cher, Aisha loves to shop till she drops. The Harriet Smith character, Shefali, comes from out of town and Aisha gives her a makeover….sounds pretty familiar! Emma never gave Harriet any sort of makeover. She liked Harriet because she was very pretty and sweet already. I dunno, maybe I’m reading too much into it.
For anyone hesitant about seeing this film because they don’t like Bollywood, I just want to say- don’t let that stop you. This movie is very, very Westernized. At least half the dialogue is in English, possibly a bit more. There are some “musical” scenes but the music is Western-style, not the typical Bollywood singing. The characters don’t break into song either- rather the music highlights what’s going on onscreen. These characters behave very much like rich Westerners would (I’ve read criticisms that it was trying too hard to be American, even) and there are even a couple kissing scenes.
I thought this was a good movie, but not great. The production values were obviously very high- everything looked great. Unfortunately, I think that was part of the problem- they focused too much on style over substance. The script needed a bit of work. The whole Jane/Frank story was handled very poorly in particular. Still, it was a fun movie, even though, like Clueless, it’s not going to go down as one of my favorites. My Rating: 6/10