For the past 10 days, I’ve been reviewing some of the most and least memorable melodramas ever filmed. Starting with 1916’s Where Are My Children?, we’ve been moving chronologically through film history. We’re now coming to the end of the 90s and what better way to end that decade than by taking a look at 1999’s Cruel Intentions?
Cruel Intentions takes place in the upscale world of a New York private school. Rich and popular Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is also a manipulative hypocrite who destroys reputations on a whim and carries cocaine in her ever-present cross necklace. Kathryn is upset because her boyfriend has recently dumped her and is now dating the sweet and innocent Cecile (Selma Blair). Kathryn asks her decadent cousin Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillippe) to seduce Cecile. However, Sebastian refuses, saying that the challenge would be too easy. Instead, he plans to seduce Annette Hargrove (Reese Whitherspoon), who has recently written an acclaimed essay about the importance of chastity and who also happens to be the daughter of the school’s headmaster. Kathryn is intrigued by Sebastian’s plan and makes a bet with him. If Sebastian manages to take Annette’s virginity than Kathryn will have sex with him…
Now, if you’ve already read my previous review of Dangerous Liaisons, the plot of Cruel Intentions probably sounds a bit familiar. That’s because both of these films are based on the same source material — Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. The main difference between the two films — beyond the fact that Dangerous Liaisons is set in pre-Revolutionary France and Cruel Intentions is set in 1990s New York — is that Dangerous Liaisons uses the material to comment on the excesses of the rich while Cruel Intentions is all about style.
And, to be honest, while Dangerous Liaisons is undoubtedly the better film, Cruel Intentions is a lot more fun. I first saw Cruel Intentions shortly before I started my sophomore year of high school and I excitedly thought to myself, “So this is what high school is going to be like!” Well, unfortunately, it turned out that I was wrong but oh well! (Though, in all fairness to the film, I went to a public high school in the suburbs of Dallas as opposed to a rich private school in New York.) The movie still a lot of fun, even if it didn’t quite match up with reality. Everything from the costumes (I absolutely LOVED every single outfit that Sarah Michelle Gellar wore and, even before it was revealed to be full of cocaine, that cross necklace was to die for) to the ornate sets to the wonderfully melodramatic and self-aware performances — it all works towards creating a vivid and engrossing alternative universe.
So no, don’t take Cruel Intentions seriously.
Just enjoy the dance while it lasts.
Tomorrow, embracing the melodrama enters the 21st Century!