Clueless turns 25 this weekend, and there are really only two ways you can properly celebrate — by going on a Cher Horowitz-inspired shopping spree or by rewatching the iconic film, courtesy of Netflix. I chose to do just the latter (mostly due to my lack of access to daddy Horowitz-level funds). Besides the fabulous clothes, Alicia Silverstone's impeccable delivery of witty comebacks, and the high school nostalgia of it all, my recent rewatch brought something else to my attention that I feel we need to talk about.
Throughout the film, we follow Cher as she navigates the ins and outs of being popular at a Beverly Hills high school: makeovers, parties, virginities, friend fights — you know the drill. And in the background of all that drama is Josh (played by the ageless Paul Rudd), Cher's college-aged ex-step sibling who hangs around the house, helping her dad with his law practice. As the movie progresses, Cher and Josh get closer.. and closer... ending the cinematic masterpiece with a kiss and a new romance.
But a quick Google search of "Cher and Josh's relationship" will bring up a number of posts questioning Clueless's fairytale ending. Decider even wrote up an article back in 2015 titled, "Is This The Creepiest Kiss In Cinematic History?". During my rewatch, I had the same thought: Ex-step siblings getting together? Questionable.
I'm not a relationship expert — or a therapist — so I asked Moraya Seeger DeGeare, MA, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the co-owner of BFF Therapy in Beacon, New York, to help me piece my Cher-and-Josh thoughts together.
Luckily, DeGeare recently did a rewatch of the 90s hit film as well — but her first reaction wasn't about the family ties.
"She's 16, he's in college. Why is a college student in general wanting to hang out with a 16-year-old?" she said. "I think it's thinking about the age difference a little bit more than the 'incest' piece of it. It's not really incest because they're not related."
Josh is a college freshman in the movie, meaning he's either 18 or 19 years old. Sure, it's not that far off from Cher's 16, but she is still a minor. According to California State Law, if a person is 18 years or older, and they have sexual intercourse with a minor, that person breaks the age of consent law and can be prosecuted for a crime — which, in Cher and Josh's case, could lead to a sticky situation, especially when you remember that Mr. Horowitz is in the legal biz himself.
Age difference aside, let's move on to their familial bond. In the beginning of the film, Cher's dad tells her that Josh is coming over for dinner, and her reply is less than enthusiastic. "You were hardly even married to his mother and that was five years ago," she whines. While we're still unsure what "hardly married" means in this context, or any context, it's safe to say that Cher and Josh have know each other for at least five years — meaning that she was around 10 or 11, and Josh could've been 13 or 14, when they first met or when their parents married.
"She was socialised with him as an older brother at an age where this wouldn't have been a sexual relationship, or a relationship, at all," DeGeare explains. She also points out that while they may have been socialised as siblings — at least, for however long their parents' quick marriage lasted — they're not as emotionally close as actual siblings, so it's not exactly weird that their feelings grew years later.
"I mean, I love Clueless, and I loved when they got together," DeGeare says. "I think it would really be different if they were raised as siblings from when she was [as young as] two."
Before the two ex-step siblings fall in love, Cher openly complains about him in the beginning of the movie. "She's kind of like, why do I have to maintain a relationship with this stranger?" DeGeare says. "She's actually thinking of him as someone who she can have no further relationship with, just because it's so insignificant."
Ron L Deal, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specialises in both marriage enrichment and stepfamily education, and founder of Smart Stepfamilies, writes on the platform that there is no "natural taboo" for step-siblings when it comes to sexual chemistry like there is for siblings who share DNA. Cher and Josh just don't have that ick-factor for one another — their sibling relationship was kind of nonexistent, and it appears that the two weren't exactly itching to bond like brother and sister at any point in their lives. There are also no laws in place saying step-siblings can't legally marry or get together, like there are for actual siblings.
So, there you have it. Being with your ex-step sibling isn't entirely taboo — especially if the family aspect of the relationship is as insignificant as Cher and Josh's. But, ultimately, the entire situation is a work of fiction, and like the rest of the movie, feels highly unlikely. That's part of what makes it so enjoyable to watch.