Fun fact: the first time I watched this film it was at an outdoor theatre sponsored by my local church (that year we had a hot young monk helping with the church’s fundraising and somehow got away with showing this film, The Ninth Gate, and Final Destination). Having said that, this movie was considered the hottest teen film at the time, as well as having one of the best soundtracks after Romeo + Juliet (and that one was hard to beat!).
The movie is a modern adaptation of the French novel, Dangerous Liaisons (a film was made in 1988 and now Starz recently did a series). So instead of being at a French court, Cruel Intentions bases itself on the lives of rich Manhattan kids, focusing on step-siblings Kathryn and Sebastian.
Kathryn is pissed off because her ex dumped her over the 4th of July weekend for a naive virgin, deeming her too “slutty” for him, and wants Sebastian to help her destroy her ex by corrupting his current girlfriend Cecile. But Sebastian, notorious for ruining the lives of young girls with his charm and sociopathic ways has his eyes set on virginal Annette. Kathryn wagers that he cannot seduce Annette and if she wins, she will get his retro Jaguar, however, if she were to lose, she alludes that she would be down to have anal sex – and thus the bet is made.
The movie opens with Placebo’s Every You, Every Me – and with lyrics such as, “Sucker love, I always find someone to bruise and leave behind,” it quickly captures the mood of this movie. Now, upon this second viewing (I never rewatched it after that time from the outdoor theatre) it’s pretty evident that Sarah Michelle Gellar (who played the manipulative Kathryn) essentially carried the movie with her boss girl ways, cold cruelty, and sensuality. Although every gal viewing this movie couldn’t help but to fall for Ryan Phillippe’s charming take on Sebastian. Rewatching the movie, I was quickly reminded of why at the time I didn’t find his character charming, and I soon realized upon my second viewing that the actor looked very similar to this guy from school (who yes was cute) but had this knack for always trying to pick me up or find ways to touch me that at the time I found annoying and borderline harassing.
The movie was massively successful, it earned $75 million out of a $10 million budget and at the time was one of the raciest teen films. Nowadays, we’re more used to series like Euphoria, so Cruel Intentions seems very tame in comparison, but overall, it’s still a fun movie and that’s mostly because of its talented cast and cool soundtrack (the best use of Bittersweet Symphony you’ll ever see onscreen). Some things are dated (such as gay shaming), but some things still speak true today (such as Kathryn’s frustration with having to keep up a fake facade in order to be liked because women get a bad rep when they admit to liking sex). Despite all the flashy fun that the movie delivers, it goes without saying that there are problematic moments such as homophobia, racial insensitivity, and downplaying sexual assault. It was a product of its time, but we shouldn’t overlook some of its problematic issues.
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