Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 27 2020 01:00PM

By now, we would all be happy to consign 2020 to the trash bin of history. Let’s reboot! Remake! Recycle and replace!


Alas, another four months must pass before we can turn in this awful year for an upgrade. But the same spirit of renovation is afoot in Greater Austenland, as we await several Austen-themed projects that represent not so much a break with Janeite history as a refurbishment thereof:


* Has your DVD of the iconic 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice – Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle, wet shirt – become a tad battered after decades of (over) use? Then you’re in luck: The BritBox streaming service is marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the beloved BBC adaptation by offering a remastered edition of the series “in stunning 4K,” the ultra-high-definition TV standard.


Imagine: an even crisper version of Colin Firth’s . . . eyes! The remastered P&P will begin streaming on September 25.


* Last year, rumor had it that we might get a new TV show based on Clueless, Amy Heckerling’s immortal 1995 movie, which updated Emma to high school in Beverly Hills. And now it seems the project is moving along: The showbiz bible Variety reports that NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service has signed on to carry the as-yet-untitled series.


Luckily for those of us who consider Clueless a perfect creation that should be messed with around the time hell needs a Zamboni, this new version is projected as a significant departure: Instead of focusing on Cher, the well-meaning but officious Emma Woodhouse avatar, it will center on Dionne, Cher’s wisecracking, fashion-forward best friend. I’m still skeptical, but hey: at this point, anything new, or even new-ish, sounds good to me.


* The best-Mr.-Darcy debates typically boil down to Colin Firth (1995) v. Matthew Macfadyen (2005), with small but enthusiastic voting blocs supporting dark-horse candidates like Laurence Olivier (1940), David Rintoul (1980), or Elliot Cowan (2008).


And then there’s Soccer the Dog.


Soccer, a Jack Russell Terrier, is better known as Wishbone, the Walter Mitty-ish protagonist of a much-loved 1995-97 PBS children’s series. In each of the show’s fifty half-hour episodes, Wishbone imagines himself as the hero of a classic work of literature whose themes resonate with the travails of his teenaged owner.


The show dramatized works by dozens of famous writers, from Homer to H.G. Wells; Austen was represented twice, with Wishbone playing Mr. Darcy in the 1995 episode “Furst Impressions” (start watching here) and Henry Tilney in the 1997 episode “Pup Fiction” (start watching here).


So Janeites were among the fans who celebrated the news earlier this summer that a Wishbone feature film is in the works, spearheaded by Peter Farrelly, the writer/director who won Oscars in 2018 for Green Book. (Alas, the new movie won’t star Soccer, who moved on to the big kennel in the sky back in 2001.) No word yet on whether the script is likely to riff on another Austen novel, but – surely they wouldn’t disappoint us?


Just to make sure, let’s help them out with some brainstorming. “Mansfield Bark,” anyone? Wishbone, playing the role of Henry Crawford, woos Fanny and ruins Maria. But in the end, his own heart is won when he meets Pug, Lady Bertram’s gender-fluid pet, and, in a risqué departure for a kids’ show, fathers a litter of puppies. As Wishbone leaves his true love behind in the literary past and heads wistfully back to his own time—shades of Outlander here--Fanny Price is seen cuddling the runt, her wedding present from her indolent aunt.


Yes, I think it has potential. Let’s take a meeting in 2021.


By Deborah Yaffe, May 11 2020 01:00PM

Better late than never: Although it appeared more than a month ago, I’ve only just stumbled across a cogent and fascinating analysis of the costuming in Autumn de Wilde’s recent feature-film adaptation of Emma, by the fashion and culture writers Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez.


The film has already been widely praised (and occasionally disparaged) for its striking and self-conscious visual style, all pastels and florals and mouthwatering hats. It’s the most eye-candy-laden Jane Austen adaptation since Clueless—and with reason, since costume designer Alexandra Byrne apparently intended some of her choices as an homage to Amy Heckerling’s 1995 masterpiece.


Or so I learned from T Lo’s post at their blog Tom + Lorenzo: Fabulous & Opinionated, in which they unpack the meanings conveyed in the costumes of Harriet Smith, Jane Fairfax, Mrs. Elton, and especially Emma Woodhouse—the class distinctions and character clues encoded in pearl necklaces, lace collars, fur-trimmed cuffs, and yellow gloves.


Their insightful analysis helps explain why the newest Emma was, in my opinion, a delightful and effective adaptation. Plus T Lo supply lots of close-up stills featuring beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes—and that can’t be a bad thing.


By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 12 2020 01:00PM

Twenty-five years ago this summer, we Janeites flocked to movie theaters to see a brand-new modernization of Emma, set among affluent Beverly Hills high school students.


Since then, the costumes, music, and slang of the immortal Clueless have become indelible pop-culture touchstones, and just about everyone who loves Cher Horowitz has bought the DVD or, at the very least, subscribed to a streaming service that makes the movie available for right-this-minute viewing.


Nevertheless, there’s something special about the communal experience of seeing a movie, up there on the big screen, amid a crowd of strangers. Or so, apparently, thinks Paramount Pictures, which has teamed up with Fathom Entertainment to celebrate Clueless’ quarter-century with a three-day theatrical release.


More than seven hundred cinemas across the country will show Clueless at four screenings over three days – May 3, 4, and 6 – along with a short feature about the witty, unforgettable teen jargon that writer-director Amy Heckerling created for her characters. (Find a location near you here.)


I’m willing to bet that at least a few of these screenings will turn into Rocky Horror-style cosplay events featuring a whole lot of yellow plaid skirts and knee socks. (Not that this would be a problem! As if!)


Meanwhile, Autumn de Wilde’s lovely new adaptation of Emma – you know, the original novel? – is doing pretty well for an indie costume drama (nearly $21 million in international ticket sales, and counting). If the movie continues to succeed, that opens the delightful possibility of a true Janeite wallow: an Emma double feature, with stops at Hartfield in the afternoon and Bronson Alcott High School in the evening. Like, totally!


By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 14 2019 02:00PM

Why do people keep trying to mess with Clueless?


Amy Heckerling’s 1995 movie, which updated the story of Emma to high school in Beverly Hills, is about as perfect a Jane Austen adaptation as there is – witty, clever, and true to the spirit of the original.


The most appropriate response to perfection ought to be . . . admiration. Respect. Keeping your hands off.


But first came talk of a Clueless remake. (The horror!) Then came the Heckerling-created off-Broadway Clueless jukebox musical. (The meh.) And now – well, last month -- comes word of a proposed Clueless TV show currently sparking interest in Hollywood.


The idea, apparently, is not to remake the 1996-99 TV show, itself based on the movie, so much as to reboot it. The central character would no longer be the Emma-like Cher but instead her friend Dionne, whose closest equivalent in Austen’s novel (although not that close, really) is Mrs. Weston. Cher disappears mysteriously; Dionne must investigate! Cher was high school queen bee; can Dionne take her place? Instead of 1815 England, we’d get 2020 Los Angeles. In place of matchmaking and moral growth, we’d get sleuthing and social climbing.


Although I’m at least three times older than the target teen demographic, I could imagine finding this sort of thing entertaining, if it weren’t for one thing: They plan on calling it Clueless. Because I don’t want anyone messing with perfection.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 7 2019 02:00PM

Over the weekend, I went to see Clueless: The Musical. It made me miss Clueless: The Movie. Which was probably not the intended effect.


The original, immortal Clueless – the 1995 Amy Heckerling movie that updated the story of Emma to high school in Beverly Hills – is witty, charming, energetic and sweet. The new Off-Broadway show is . . . energetic.


We get duplicates of the characters, costumes and much of the plot of the original, along with ‘90s-vintage pop songs featuring new lyrics by Heckerling, but the result feels strained, as if everyone is trying a bit too hard. The light touch that makes the movie such a pleasure is entirely absent. Remarkably, it turns out that it’s possible to watch (a version of) Clueless without laughing.


The hard-working performers aren’t to blame, though we saw the show sans its semi-big star, Disney Channel actress Dove Cameron, who has been getting lots of social-media hate for missing performances over health concerns. Those on stage were certainly . . . energetic, but they mostly seemed to be imitating their cinematic predecessors, rather than making the roles their own.


Would a fan better versed than I in ‘90s pop have recognized more of the songs and thereby enjoyed their transformation more? Maybe. Instead, I found myself wishing that Heckerling had just hired a decent composer and created some catchy original music, instead of rehashing the sometimes mediocre hits of decades past.


The whole experience left me even more skeptical than I already was about the Clueless movie remake that’s supposedly on Hollywood’s agenda. Tempted to mess with perfection? Yeah – no. Just don’t.


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