Unsuspecting was one of the first films that came to my mind for a nostalgic, carefree new pandemic watch. When Netflix came recently, I was excited to sit down for a cup of tea and watch a fifteen-year-old girl slowly fall in love with her nineteen-year-old step-brother. Wait, oh my god, what’s the plot of this movie again?
Most people know that Unsuspecting is a modern (for 1990) remake of the Jane Austen novel Emma. It’s easy to assume that director Amy Heckerling likely translated a relationship that was acceptable in 1815, but strange by today’s standards, into a modern version of a creepy relationship. I assumed Cher and Josh’s bookmates Emma and Mr. Knightley were probably the first cousins or something. While we’re not looking for hot contact at our family gatherings today, Christmas 1815 was basically a single mixer.
In the book, Knightley is the brother of the husband of Emma’s older sister. There is a family connection, but it is not as close as that in the Unsuspecting. Emma and Knightly don’t grow up like Cher and Josh. Wouldn’t it have been so much easier to give Cher an older sister who doesn’t have much to offer and make Josh the brother of her sister’s friend?
They could have had the same family connection as Emma and Knightley in the novel, and it would have been much less creepy. Josh and Cher still have a reason to see each other even though they are not friends, and this is not why he calls their father “Dad”.
At least they could have narrowed the age difference between Cher and Josh. In the book, Knightley is sixteen years older than Emma, but at least Emma is twenty and has an adult life. There is a massive difference between the world of someone in high school and someone in college. Not to mention the fact that their relationship violates legal rape laws. Okay, you wanna make Josh older than Cher to reflect the novel? Fine. Make him seventeen when she is fifteen. In high school, this age difference seems enormous!
Someone who made the film must have had an age difference problem because Cher’s age is very difficult to determine. She behaves like a senior in high school. It is rarely supervised. She drives even though she doesn’t have a driver’s license (until she gets in trouble) and her father says, “Don’t ride with Dionne anymore, two permits don’t make a driver’s license.” That’s the only way I found out how young she was. I thought she might have decided not to take the test when she turned 16, but if Dionne didn’t take the test either, I thought they all had to be 15. I googled a bit, and yes, Cher is said to be fifteen years old for most of the film.