Cruel Intentions (1999) 20th Anniversary Review
Cruel Intentions (1999)
Director: Roger Kumble
Screenwriter: Roger Kumble
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair, Louise Fletcher, Joshua Jackson
Doesn’t time fly when you’re playing duplicitous sex games? It’s hard to believe that 20 years have gone by since the seductive step-siblings from a prestigious Manhattan prep school writhed onto the big screen (this is all utter twaddle because I was eight when this came out – I definitely didn’t watch it at the cinema).
Based on an 18th century French novel called “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” by Pierre Choderlos De Laclos, and adapted for the screen by Kumble, Cruel Intentions has always been a bit hit and miss for me. As a die hard ‘Buffy’ fan, I undoubtedly watched this film when I was too young, and probably didn’t pick up on the “major themes”. Watching it now as a mature (haha) 20-something woman, I am starting to realise there weren’t many major themes for me to miss.
It follows the story of two insipid, jaded step-siblings Kathryn (Gellar) and Sebastian (Phillipe) who take pleasure in ruining reputations and seeking revenge. Their latest boredom-born rabble rouse involves the new headmaster’s virgin daughter Annette (Witherspoon).
Sebastian wagers that he can bed her by the time term starts. If he doesn’t manage it, Kathryn gets his fast car and if he does, he gets Kathryn’s fast… you know.
Running parallel to this, Mrs. Caldwell (Baranski) asks Kathryn to look after her daughter Cecile (Blair) before the new school term. Cecile recently and unknowingly bagged a new boyfriend, Kathryn’s ex boyfriend.
To say that this film has aged badly is a bit of an understatement. The music, attitudes and values are enough to remind me that I twinned purple tonic trousers and a glittery sheer top with a blow up backpack (again guys, I was eight).
The plot is entertaining and keeps building momentum, which leaves you peeping at the unfolding drama from behind your hands, hoping that the madness will end. Weaving tangled webs and putting themselves at serious risk of incurable diseases, the characters were 99’s answer to ‘Gossip Girl’.
However, while the original inspiration for this film may have shocked those stuffy EU aristocrats with its seductively devilish plot, Kumble’s attempt to be contemporary is way off the mark – anal sex and girl-on-girl kisses are fairly pedestrian for teen movies nowadays, right? Or have I become just as sexually nonchalant as the Valmont siblings?
Kathryn gives a small monologue about how she is judged for having sexual conquests while men get all the glory, and Annette puts up a good front for her pro-choice virginity, but ultimately this is a teen movie trying to disguise itself as something bigger and more profound.
This wolf in sultry clothing story has stood up well over 20 years, but I think maybe you “had to be there” to appreciate its attempts to shock. Saying that, it’s still got one of the best aftershock ending songs ever – The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” will always conjure up disgusted and judgemental faces amid a sea of plaid school uniforms.
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