Insomnia File #34: The Minus Man (dir by Hampton Fancher)

What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Last night, if you were unable to sleep at one in the morning, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the 1999 film, The Minus Man!

The Minus Man is a strange little film about a rather odd man.  Vann (Owen Wilson) is a drifter.  He avoids questions about his past with the skill of someone who specializes in being whatever he needs to be at the moment.  When he rents a room from Doug and Jane Durwin (Brian Cox and Mercedes Ruehl), he tells them that he’s only drunk one beer over the course of his entire life, he always works, he always pays his rent on time, and that he’s never smoked “the dope.”  He says it so earnestly that it’s difficult to know whether you should take him seriously or not.  And yet, Vann is so likable and so charmingly spacey that you can’t help but understand why people automatically trust him.  Vann succeeds not because people believe him but because they want to believe him.

Vann’s new in town.  As he explains to a cop who pulls him over, he’s just interested in seeing the countryside.  From the minute that Vann shows up, he’s accepted by the community.  He goes to a high school football game and befriends the local star athlete (Eric Mabius).  He tries to help repair Doug and Jane’s marriage, which has been strained ever since the disappearance of their daughter.  With Doug’s aid, Vann gets a job at the post office and proves that he wasn’t lying when he said he was a hard worker.  Vann even pursues a tentative romance with the poignantly shy and insecure Ferrin (Janeane Garofalo).

In fact, it’s easy to imagine this film as being a sweet-natured dramedy where a drifter comes into town for the holidays and helps all of the townspeople deal with their problems.  However, from the first time we see him, we know that Vann has some issues.  As Detective Graves (Dennis Haysbert) puts it, Vann is a “cipher, a zero.”  There’s nothing underneath the pleasant surface.  Of course, Graves doesn’t really exist.  Neither does his partner, Detective Blair (Dwight Yoakam).  They’re two figments of Vann’s imagination.  They appear whenever Vann is doing something that he doesn’t want the world to find out about.

Whenever the urge hits him, Vann kills people.  When we first meet him, he’s picking up and subsequently murdering a heroin addict named Casper (Sheryl Crow).  Vann makes it a point to use poison because he says that it’s a painless death.  Vann also says that he’s doing his victims a favor, as he feels that the majority of them no longer want to live.  Vann is the type of killer who, after having committed his latest murder, sees nothing strange about volunteering to help search for the missing victim.

Like a lot of serial killer films, The Minus Man cheats by giving all of the best lines to the killer.  In real life, most serial killers are impotent, uneducated losers who usually end up getting caught as a result of their own stupidity.  In the movies, they’re always surprisingly loquacious and clever.  While Vann may not be a well-spoken as Hannibal Lecter, he’s still a lot more articulate than the majority of real-life serial killers.  As I watched the film, it bothered me that we didn’t really learn more about Vann’s victims.  (It would have been a far different film if someone had mentioned that Vann’s third, unnamed victim was “Randy, who was just having a bite to eat while shopping for a present for his little girl’s birthday.”)  Too often, The Minus Man seemed to be letting Vann off the hook in a way that a film like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or even American Psycho never would.

That said, The Minus Man may be occasionally uneven but it’s still an intriguing and sometimes genuinely creepy film.  The Minus Man makes good use of Owen Wilson’s eccentric screen persona and Wilson gives a very good performance as a man who has become very skilled at hiding just how empty he actually is.  Much like everyone else in the film, you want to believe that there’s more to Vann than meets the eye because, as played by Wilson, he’s just so damn likable.  Over the course of the film, Vann and Doug develop this weird little bromance and, as good as Wilson is, Brian Cox’s performance is even more unsettling because we’re never quite sure what Doug may or may not be capable of doing.  Even Janeane Garofalo gives a touching and believable performance as a character who you find yourself sincerely hoping will not end up getting poisoned.

With all that in mind, I wouldn’t suggest watching this film if you’re trying to get over insomnia.  This is the type of unsettling film that will keep you awake and watching the shadows long after the final credits roll.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian

Back to School Part II #30: Welcome to the Dollhouse (dir by Todd Solondz)


1995’s Welcome to The Dollhouse is a seriously dark movie.

That really shouldn’t be too surprising.  The film was written and directed by Todd Solondz, a filmmaker who goes out of his way to showcase the darkest corners of human existence.  For that matter, the film stars Heather Matarazzo.  Matarazzo won an Independent Spirit Award for playing Dawn Wiener, a 12 year-old outcast who is nicknamed “Wiener Dog” and essentially spends Welcome to the Dollhouse being tormented by almost everyone in her life.  According to Wikipedia, upon winning the award, Matarzzo announced that she hoped to spend her career playing characters “whom are ostracized for some reason.”

And, if nothing else, Dawn is certainly ostracized.

There’s been a lot of movies that have claimed to be about teen outcasts.  Whenever you watch those films, one thing you immediately notice is that the “outcasts” rarely seem to truly be outcasts.  Instead, they’re often portrayed as artistic types who just need to take off their glasses, let down their hair, and go on a shopping spree.  For instance, Rachael Leigh Cook was an outcast in She’s All That but it turned out that all she needed to do was go out on a date with Freddie Prinze, Jr.  Sissy Spacek, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Emily Bergl all played outcasts in different versions of Carrie but, fortunately, they could always use their psychic powers to kill all the bullies at their school.  Unfortunately, Dawn doesn’t have psychic powers and it’s doubtful that even dating Freddie Prinze, Jr. would help her out.

There’s a scene in Welcome to The Dollhouse in which Dawn witnesses a group of bullies shoving another outcast into a locker.  When Dawn steps forward to ask him if he’s okay, her fellow outcast snaps, “Leave me alone, Weiner Dog!” and then runs off.  Dawn is the outcast that even the other outcasts make fun of.

The entire film is pretty much told from her point of view.  It’s a true journey into the life of an outcast and a chance to see what life looks like when you’re on the outside looking in.  We watch as her family ignores her and instead lavishes their attention on her bratty younger sister, Missy (Daria Kalinina).  When Missy is briefly kidnapped (largely because Dawn neglected to let Missy know that their mother wouldn’t be able to pick her up after ballet class), Dawn even goes, by herself, to New York City and searches for her.  Dawn wants to be the hero of this story but not only does she not find her sister but, when Dawn returns, she discovers that no one even noticed that she was gone.

Dawn does have two friends.  One is a fifth grader whose friendship she quickly loses.  The other is Brandon (Brendon Sexton III), an angry delinquent who, before becoming her friend, tries to rape her.  Brandon, who has a horrific and abusive home life, lights a joint at one point.  Dawn tells him that she doesn’t smoke but then earnestly adds that she does think marijuana should be legal.

Dawn does have an older brother named Mark (Matthew Faber).  Mark is as nerdy as his sister but he appears to have made peace with it.  (Either that or he’s so used to being on the outside that he doesn’t even notice anymore.)  Mark assures Dawn that things will get better but it’ll be a few years.  He also starts a band, which leads to Dawn getting a huge crush on the lead singer, Steve (Eric Mabius).  In fact, Steve is so handsome and charismatic (in a teenage rock star wannabe sort of way) that Dawn doesn’t even realize that, during the rare times that he does talk to her, he’s actually talking down to her…

Welcome to the Dollhouse is one of those films that you watch and you keep waiting for that one moment that Dawn is going to be allowed some sort of victory.  You wait for her to get a compliment.  You wait for her to make a new friend.  You wait for her to smile after coming to some sort of sudden realization.  And it never happens.  If anything, Dawn is more miserable at the end of the movie than she was at the beginning.

In the end, you realize that her only triumph comes from the fact that she’s managed to survive and she now has a better understanding of just how much life is going to suck.  It’s not exactly a happy movie.  It gets even worse if you know that Solondz’s 2004 film, Palindromes, opens with Dawn’s funeral.  (Dawn, we learn, committed suicide after getting pregnant in college.)

And yet, Welcome to the Dollhouse remains compulsively watchable.  Heather Matarazzo does such a good job as Dawn that you find yourself rewatching and hoping things turn out differently.  Whenever I watch Welcome to the Dollhouse, I always think to myself that I would have been nice to Dawn if I had known her.  Of course, that’s probably not true.  No one was nice to Dawn in the movie and no one would probably be nice to her in real life.  At the best, if I had gone to school with Dawn Weiner, I probably would have just patted myself on the back for not being mean to her face.

What sets Welcome to the Dollhouse apart from other teen films is that Todd Solondz is willing to admit this.


Hallmark Review: Signed, Sealed, Delivered: From The Heart (2016, dir. Lynne Stopkewich)


When I made that ordering of the best Valentine’s Day movies from Hallmark this year on my post for Appetite For Love, I was not aware the new Signed, Sealed, Delivered movie was also going to be part of their Valentine’s Day lineup. To put it bluntly, screw the other five, and watch this. I hope more Hallmark fans are tuning into their Movies & Mysteries Channel movies because the Signed, Sealed, Delivered films are the best ones Hallmark airs. Nothing else really compares. That said, this one needed some trimming. The main plot and a little furthering of the relationship between Norman (Geoff Gustafson) and Rita (Crystal Lowe) was all we really needed. The rest of the plots feel extraneous and just add more to follow without much payoff.

Interestingly, this is the first of the Signed, Sealed, Delivered movies to not be helmed by Kevin Fair. This time around they brought in October Kiss director Lynne Stopkewich. She has had an interesting career so far to say the least. She does a fine job here. I have no complaints about the directing.

Often we get the title card of a Hallmark movie almost immediately, but not this time. A fair amount of setup occurs before that happens.


The movie begins back in 1835 with a woman making a Valentine for someone in America. We will eventually be told who the Valentine was meant for, which is kind of neat, but not really. It winds up in Norman’s hands, and it does serve a purpose for a scene with him near the end, but he didn’t need the letter for his lines to work just as well. This is a part that really could have been trimmed in my opinion. The movie already had enough plots going that it didn’t need this one thrown in as well.


Then matching on the action of the 1835 handmade Valentine, we jump to present day and see Oliver (Eric Mabius) making his own Valentine for Shane (Kristin Booth). He then hands it off to be mailed to her instead of just giving it to her…for reasons? This is another part that could have been snipped. The letter will take the entire film to end up in Shane’s hands. It ends up in a box she doesn’t know has anything but Valentine decorations in it.

Now you’d think that title card might pop up now, but nope.


The dead letter comes in, and Oliver instantly takes it to run off to a restaurant.


We now go back 15 years to find a kid mailing that letter before asking a police officer where he needs to go to turn himself in.

Now we get the title card and title track of the series. It took awhile. I was wondering if it would ever show up. By the way, that 15 years earlier thing is the main plot of the film. Unlike previous Signed, Sealed, Delivered movies, this one does act more like a procedural rather than having the letter lead to a major revelation about the characters that moves them forward for the next film. I liked that. I’ve always wanted the tracking down the letter to truly be the center of attention instead of say Oliver discovering the truth about his father. There is a little bit of a blast from the past, literally, but it’s minor compared to previous installments.

Another plot is that Rita will get called in to be Miss Special Delivery because the people above her were disqualified in some manner. This goes nowhere really. It goes viral that Rita and Norman are an item and for no real reason she denies it during a press conference. Of course she ends up coming around in the end. I’m really not sure of any good reason for this plot to happen. Maybe a little reinforcement of their relationship since she certainly hurt Norman in the process. She must have been a little uncertain on her end. Otherwise, it just leads to some lines about how people share things today. Blah, blah, blah. People have been doing that sort of thing for a long time. Even as far back as the 1930’s, if not earlier. I’ve read stupid old newspaper stories telling us someone is leaving to go on vacation. I wouldn’t say this should have been snipped, but they could have found a better way to forward the Norman and Rita thing. Oh, and this happens to Norman at one point in the film.


It’s the funniest part of the movie, and since I don’t intend to do this movie blow by blow, I had to stick it somewhere. After picking up two baby doll arms in a dumpster, Norman says, “You wake up in the morning, and you never really know how your day is going to end.”


Here is the literal blast from the past. Back when Oliver was Cliff Clavin, he was going to pick up the mail from the mailbox where the kid dropped off the now dead letter. He decided to wait a little bit before he was supposed to pick up the letters because of a police officer who would be in the area that he liked. Since he waited a little bit, an actual clown showed up, and after a little accident with helium…KABOOM! Since Oliver really does take things seriously USPS wise, he never really forgave himself. As a result, he really wants to get this letter that was involved in the accident to its intended recipient.

You got all that? We have an 1835 Valentine that winds up in Norman’s hands that we don’t know who it’s for at first. We have Oliver’s Valentine for Shane going everywhere but her hands. We have the policewoman that Oliver likes. Oh yeah, that actually is a really tiny little plot in this too. We also have Rita and Norman needed to mend fences after she denies publicly that she is seeing him. Then finally, we have the main plot of the movie. All of these plots are affairs of the heart, which ties into the title, and the main plot, but it was a bit much.


These two are the main plot. That’s Ryan (Nick Purcha) and Maddie (Mackenzie Cardwell) 15 years earlier. They meet because they are both on the debate team. She isn’t very charismatic, but is good with research. He is the opposite. He’s charismatic, but usually doesn’t have that much substance to back what he is saying. Their plot is the best part of the movie. It leads to tragedy, which is why he turned himself into the police at the beginning of the film. A little spoiler: he killed somebody. It will also jump the 15 year gap when the letter finds it’s way to the two of them when they are adults.

I know I normally take you through the whole film, but not this time. I haven’t felt well lately. Also, that would have me trying to juggle all these plot lines or try to tell each one separately. This isn’t a Godfrey Ho movie where telling the plot lines separate makes the film more coherent. This is like the first two Godfather films where you lose something by rearranging events into chronological order. There is a reason these plots are woven together the way they are.

Like I said at the start, forget the other Hallmark Valentine’s Day movies this year, and watch this one instead.

Hallmark Review: How To Fall In Love (2012, dir. Mark Griffiths)


The movie begins 20 years in the past, which I guess would mean this starts in the year 1992.


That’s Harold and Annie. Little problem here. In the present, Harold is played by Eric Mabius and Annie is played by Brooke D’Orsay. Mabius was 21 years old in 1992 and D’Orsay was only 10. Oops! Oh, well. The age difference didn’t cause any problems for me. This opening scene sets up why Harold is so down on himself in the present. He really cared for her and she just kind of wanted to have fun. All very innocent, but he took it hard.


Cut to 20 years later and we see Harold has grown up to be Clark Kent, mild mannered account and photographer in his free time. Now we are introduced to my favorite character in the movie.


No, not Harold’s friend who gets him to seek out a dating coach. I mean the red Bluetooth headset on his head. I’m pretty sure he wears that thing in all but his last scene in the movie. Sorry, but that thing made me laugh every time it appeared onscreen. Especially since we only see him use it once in the entire movie.


Now we meet the modern day Annie. She lives with her sister and is out of work. Her sister gives her a swift kick in the butt and she gets a job as a waitress.

After Harold and Annie run into each other a couple of times and Annie finds out he’s looking for a dating coach, she offers her services. You all know where this goes after this.


Well, I mean besides another great appearance by the Bluetooth headset. She agrees to take him through eight lessons on dating. Although, I swear I missed Lesson 2 somehow. Thankfully, one of the first lessons is getting rid of those glasses. It’s not the glasses themselves, but combined with the way Mabius acts, we keep thinking of Clark Kent. Once he gets rid of them he’s basically like his character in Signed, Sealed, Delivered except not wound tighter than a drum. The rest of the lessons get him into a relationship that isn’t really right for him while moving him closer and closer to Annie.

The only real problem I had with this movie for a while was D’Orsay. She is kind of the living embodiment of bubbling champagne. That was a bit of a problem because of the way they introduce her character. It makes it difficult to warm up to her rather than see her as kind of a shallow conman. Luckily, at least for me, that started to fade and she became lovable. Honestly, I think the credit goes to D’Orsay because my impression of her seemed to change at the right points in the plot.

There is also a nice little supporting role from Kathy Najimy as Annie’s waitress friend.

These two aren’t on caliber with Kavan Smith and Kellie Martin as far as Hallmark couples go, but they’re much better than the usual. I can say I recommend this one.


I just wish this movie would have given me that much needed resolution I hoped for concerning the Bluetooth headset. At least in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) we do see Max get that ridiculous thing off his face. I wanted the story behind what happened to this thing. Too bad.

Hallmark Review: Signed, Sealed, Delivered: The Impossible Dream (2015, dir. Kevin Fair)


As always with the Signed, Sealed, Delivered movies, if you can, you should go back and start with the Christmas one, then work your way forward to this one. However, if that’s not possible, then you should at least see the one right before this entitled Truth Be Told. I say that because while the series very much builds on each and every episode, this and Truth Be Told are a two part episode. Not in the way you would see a two part episode of say Star Trek: The Next Generation, but more like a crossover between two different shows. Except it’s the same show. By that I mean Truth Be Told can be watched and viewed as a whole, but there is an unresolved element that is then picked up and finished by this film.

The episode opens in Afghanistan where we see Lieutenant Randilynn Amidon (Tammy Gillis) from Truth Be Told is alive. She is trying to help a woman who is in labor. After Amidon is told that she doesn’t have much time left, we see a letter go out. Cue the titular music!

Now we see The Postables going in to meet with a congressional committee. They’re there because they want to plead their case that a rescue mission be sent in to save Lieutenant Randilynn Amidon. She was thought to be missing or to have even gone over to the enemy side in Afghanistan. Of course the committee wants to hear why, so Oliver O’Toole (Eric Mabius) takes us back to tell the story.


Turns out they came to Washington for, I kid you not, the Miss Special Delivery pageant that Rita Haywith (Crystal Lowe) is going to be in. As much as that is the lamest excuse for them to end up in Washington, it does serve a purpose beyond just putting them there for the main plot.


While they are in Washington they also go to visit Shane McInerney’s (Kristin Booth) childhood home, but it’s no longer there. Meanwhile, Rita checks in at the pageant while Shane, Oliver, and Norman (Geoff Gustafson) run into Amidon’s daughter and who I assume is Amidon’s grandfather. They probably said it at some point in this or Truth Be Told, but I missed it. However, the grandfather is played by William B. Davis so it’s probably Amidon’s grandfather given his age. They find out they are trying to get someone in Washington to listen to them about Randilynn. And I have to say, it’s kind of humorous to see this scene because of the character William B. Davis is probably most famous to people for playing. That being the mysterious Smoking Man from The X-Files. It’s funny to see him having trouble getting someone in the government to listen to him.


This is when the blast from the past shows up, and you know what? One of my wishes was fulfilled with this entry in the series. He’s not there to take up the majority of the film giving us backstory on one of the main characters. Nope. He’s an ex of Shane’s who works in the government. She called him thinking that he might be able to help in getting someone to listen to Amidon’s family. And that he does because he has the letter that we saw go out at the beginning of the film.


They can’t take the letter with them, but luckily Rita got a quick look at it and has a very good memory so she is able to recall details about it.

What follows is largely the other wish I had about future episodes of Signed, Sealed, Delivered. The rest is mainly them working to decipher the letter and explain to the committee what that means, and where they need to go in order to rescue her in Afghanistan. So, yay for me, and I hope future episodes do this sort of thing more.

There are only two other things I think are worth mentioning.


The pageant serves a purpose beyond just giving them an excuse to be in Washington. While this movie doesn’t have someone show up to give us a character backstory dump, the pageant and what happens with it does move the Rita and Norman love story forward. Also, we see Oliver inherit the money from his father that we found out about in Truth Be Told and he uses it to buy McInerney’s old lot to build a house for retired postal workers. The first acquisition he plans to use the money for in order to do good things.


The second thing is that while I’m sure that shot and all the shots in Afghanistan are in California or Canada, they don’t screw it up. They often shoot at night or with dust in the air. They shoot in areas that aren’t obviously not where they claim to be. And most importantly, they don’t linger on anything long enough for you to call BS. Sadly, this is not a usual thing for Hallmark, so kudos to the production crew of this particular one.

I recommend it, but at least see Truth Be Told first. However, you won’t be lost with the short mention about Oliver’s wife and I think you can pick up Rita and Norman’s story anywhere a long the line without any issue.

Val’s Movie Roundup #2: Hallmark Edition

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: From Paris With Love

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: From Paris With Love (2015) – Despite what people say elsewhere online, you can’t come into this film without having seen any of the other Signed, Sealed, Delivered TV Movies/Episodes. I know this because I tried and it doesn’t work. The movie is about four people (conveniently picked so we know that they should pair off) who get dead letters and track down who should have received them. Sounds like it should be a procedural, but it’s not. This series seems to set up a tiny little bit of a plot, then spends the whole time having the characters develop through conversation. The reason this film will lose people who are brand new is because it reaches all the way back through everything to the first episode of the show to bring Oliver’s (Eric Mabius) wife into his life again. The wife is played by Poppy Montgomery in a role far better than in Tammy and the T-Rex. Yeah, I’m going to work that movie into as many reviews as possible. There are also flashbacks. You really need to come to this as the culmination of all the previous stuff. As a result, my experience with this film was not good. It felt inert. Kind of like passing away slowly, but painlessly. I know that sounds brutal, but I can’t think of a better way to describe it.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered for Christmas

Signed, Sealed, Delivered for Christmas (2014) – This Signed, Sealed, Delivered is a different beast. It’s still the same characters and once again a dead letter has shown up. This time it’s a letter for God. You’d think it’s for Santa considering Christmas is in the title, but this is less a Christmas movie as it is a Christian movie. Unlike From Paris With Love, you can come into this without knowing anything. That’s a real plus! Again, it’s not about plot, but character development. And subtle slow development at that. I wonder how long Hallmark is planning to keep this show going. It can feel like being teased at times. Like near the end when Norman (Geoff Gustafson) reaches up to gently touch Rita’s (Crystal Lowe) face. You know she should just grab him in her arms, but it never happens. Instead, he walks away while she is lit up like a Christmas tree. If you have to choose between the two TV Movie episodes of this show to start with, then please start with this one. You’ll have a far better time, and most likely will enjoy From Paris With Love much more than I did.

Surprised By Love

Surprised By Love (2015) – When the cake gets destroyed, just make a new one from Twinkies! There’s nothing really to be surprised about here. You have a driven girl with the wrong guy. You have one of those guys who achieved some sort of nirvana by wandering from place to place. He’s kind of like the magic negro or magic eccentric type character that turns around other people’s lives simply by coming in contact with them. And finally, you have her boyfriend who is stuffy and clearly doesn’t belong with her. Our heroine runs into the magic man who is selling driftwood. Yeah, and his car runs on vegetable oil. I’m not making that up. What happens is that her boyfriend thinks it will be really clever if she brings home the magic man, whom she knows from high school, to be an embarrassment so he looks wonderful. Guess what happens? At least the grandpa who pretends to have dementia so he doesn’t have to talk to anybody is kind of funny. This one’s harmless.


Nearlyweds (2013) – Yeah, that’s easily the best scene in the movie. A phone call comes in with a job offer and while the person is leaving a message, the dog pees on the phone and it shorts out. But let me back up. This movie is about three girlfriends who all got married around the same time by the same guy. Problem though, he dies before he can sign the paperwork. That means, technically, legally, they’re not actually married. Typical, but could be humorous. Except it’s not. One of the big problems is that the husbands don’t find out about this until 48 minutes into the movie. At that point there are 39 minutes left. I don’t know why it takes so long. Everything prior seems like filler, then the secret is out, and still next to nothing happens. I know it’s Hallmark and a TV Movie in general, but they really should have done more with this. It’s not a concept that’s necessarily doomed from the start. Too bad.

Embracing the Melodrama #47: Cruel Intentions (dir by Roger Kumble)

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!