Hello, everyone! I just want to start by saying I’m basically a prophet. Today Mashable had a whole article decrying Batman vs. Superman for giving Gal Gadot only seven minutes of screen time in a movie that’s two and a half hours long. I said her role was pandering three days ago, and I haven’t even seen the movie! As the next Prophet of Delphi, I’ll be accepting gifts of olive oil and grape leaves at my cave for the next few days. Now, to more worthy matters.
Cruel Intentions, based on the 18th century French novel Les Liasons Dangereuses, is like Pretty in Pink, except if every character in the movie was James Spader. They’re the stereotypical filthy rich Manhattanites that Gossip Girl exists to praise, but they’re even worse because it’s the 1990s and people in the 1990s wore glasses like these:
The premise is trashy enough to make for a entertaining 90 minutes: Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) and his sister Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) make a bet concerning whether or not Sebastian can hook up with Annette (Reese Witherspoon), a wait-till-marriage kinda gal who’s also the headmaster’s daughter. If Sebastian fails to hook up with her before school starts, Kathryn gets his car, but if Sebastian succeeds, he gets to hook up with Kathryn instead. But don’t worry, they’re step-siblings, so it’s not that illegal. In order to accomplish this, somehow, they must also ruin the reputation of their ward Cecile (Selma Blair) because she happened to catch the eye of Kathryn’s one-time boyfriend. It’s all so juicy and capital S scandalous.
BUT! There’s a catch. Cruel Intentions isn’t just a lascivious teen-movie guaranteed to shock your socks off (if you’re 90 years old), it’s actually a tragic love story. And that would be okay, I guess, except the love story is so silly that it ruins whatever exaggerated pageantry the movie had going for it.
First, Sebastian, the malicious playboy, begins the movie gunning for Annette. He is so determined to win the bet that when he discovers that Greg, a secretly gay football player, told Annette of his bad-boy reputation, thus poisoning her against him, he threatens to reveal Greg’s sexuality to everyone. But whoops, it wasn’t actually Greg, so he just uses this knowledge as blackmail to force Greg, Annette’s longtime friend, to lie about Sebastian and paint him as a saint. Sebastian’s a pretty scuzzy guy, that’s why it’s impossible to believe when 2/3 through the movie, he “completely changes” through his association with Annette. And by completely changes, I mean he doesn’t immediately try to sleep with her. He waits approx three days. What a guy!
Second, their Romeo and Juliet love story is so badly written that I was genuinely surprised. There I was, trying to get invested in what was supposedly the moral core of the film, but there was nada. If I recall correctly, Sebastian and Annette spend very little time together before Sebastian decides that he’s “in love.” They swim together once, which is a very skeezy moment for Annette, they talk a little, and they go volunteering. That’s basically it. The only time Annette shows any semblance of character is when she makes goofy faces at Sebastian in the car and tells him not to take himself so seriously. But that small encounter was enough to make Sebastian throw away all his sexual predator tendencies and fall in love with her. And, even more surprisingly, enough for her to fall in love with him.
30 minutes later Sebastian says:
Well I’m glad you crazy kids can agree on that.
Cruel Intentions is a basket of crazy, but the craziest part isn’t intentional. I can buy that two super spoiled, slightly psychopathic rich teenagers would make twisted bets. People are weird. But I can’t buy that Annette, a girl who wrote a abstinence manifesto for Seventeen Magazine and is from Kansas (KANSAS!) would fall for a guy like Sebastian, whose idea of a fun time is to sleep with his psychiatrist’s daughter and then post her nude pictures on the internet. That’s too inconceivable, even for this movie.
But Cruel Intentions takes the romance between Annette and Sebastian incredibly seriously. Like, Counting Crows montage seriously. The arc of their relationship spans maybe twenty minutes: Annette doesn’t want to sleep with Sebastian, Sebastian calls her a hypocrite for running away from her “true love”, Annette agrees to sleep with Sebastian, Sebastian decides to call off the bet with Kathryn, Kathryn tells Sebastian that he’s whipped, Sebastian breaks up with Annette, they get back together, he dies. Yeah, I was surprised too. And all in the last half-hour of the movie.
The expressions of love between Sebastian and Annette are so sincere that it’s like they were cut from another movie, hence the John Hughes. There’s the Counting Crows’ “Colorblind” elevator scene:
So many things to laugh about:
- The song. I once thought “Colorblind” was a very moving song. Never again.
- Ryan Phillippe standing at the top of the escalator like a zombie. And then that lady walking in front of him. So romantic.
- Everyone’s wearing grey except for them! Awwww. Red and blue because she’s loving and he’s cold. Awwwwww.
- She doesn’t see him when she first looks up, even though his shirt is so bright it burns. But only after the lady has walked in front of him does she notice.
- You’d think with such a dramatic scene that Annette was moving to Europe. No, she’s just moving to a different part of Manhattan.
There’s the scene where Ryan Phillippe gives Annette his journal, chock full of his sexual conquests, as proof that he loves her. And she’s down with that! And of course, there’s the scene where Sebastian gets into a fight with Ronald, Cecile’s music teacher and Kathryn’s sometime lover (yeah, that’s a stupid subplot not worth describing), and ends up getting run over by a taxi because they decided to have their fistfight in the middle of a street in Manhattan.
Sebastian’s premature death, however, is all worth it because it allows Annette to orchestrate Kathryn’s downfall. Let’s remember that she’s the real mastermind behind these evil sex schemes. Sebastian’s an angel now and we should be real sorry he died in a stupid Manhattan taxicab fist fight. Annette and Cecile (who’s still relevant) distribute photocopies of Sebastian’s scandalous journal, presciently named Cruel Intentions, just ‘cuz. It reveals that Kathryn kinda sucks, which would be obvious if anyone in that school spent more than three minutes with her. She even gets expelled. Not for being a bitch (that’s allowed) but because she keeps cocaine in her crucifix. Rich people amirite.
In the end, Annette drives off into the sunset in Sebastian’s car. The last shot is her putting on his signature Neo glasses. I’m not sure if the end implies that Annette realized that Sebastian really was her true love (which I doubt) or that she just completed her transformation from polite rich kid to appropriately devious rich kid. You can interpret this handy gif for yourself.
Or maybe, just maybe, Annette was a bad girl all along. That’s the magic of Hollywood. We’ll never know.
Totally unrelated, but here’s a really funny video of Ben Affleck listening to bad Batman vs. Superman reviews set to “The Sound of Silence.” Bravo, Youtube.