Film Review: Cruel Intentions

I’ve been going through a phase recently whereby I’ve been drawn back to some of the films from my youth. Not the big name blockbusters we all know, love and grew up on, but rather the lesser known fair that lives on warmly in my mind – City Of Angels and Finding Forrester, for example.

And continuing that trend, I decided to relive the ultimate expression, for my generation, of teenage male puberty wanting a giggle with Cruel Intentions, the movie that turned Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Michelle Gellar into objects of dark desire and broke many a DVD remote control’s pause button I’m sure with “that kiss”.

Selma Blair & Sarah Michelle Gellar - Cruel Intentions

I must admit though, that while I have slight memories of owning Cruel Intentions on VHS before upgrading to DVD (a step I’ve never moved up from) it has been a very long time since I last watched the film. And yet, it only took a few moments for everything to flood back into place. The memories, the plot, the dark charm. And then a strange thing happened…

The movie seemed to be running far, far quicker than I remember. Suddenly, the big moments, all arrived and went in what felt like the first act. The story was as clear as day, sucking me in to its subtle misogyny disguised through teenage fantasy, but it felt like it was going to get through it all in 30 minutes. I know when you revisit everything from your childhood it somehow feels smaller, more distant, less impressive, but this apparent turn of pace was startling and confusing.

It did settle down though, mainly because there is a lot of the movie that I had hidden behind those explicit moments. The moments a 16 year old brain finds defining and now, with the full picture laid bare, Cruel Intentions took on another dimension. It became more than just a dark romantic comedy designed to play on the first longings of teenage boys and tried to speak. It tried to twist a narrative tale.

Selma Blair - Cruel Intentions

Sadly though, it doesn’t really have the voice to do so. The performances just don’t feel real and the world in which they act feels equally false. There are just so many holes and issues that examined closely cause it to fall apart. The other problem I have with it now is that it simply doesn’t feel sexual. It taps into the naivety of a virginal audience that lack the proof of experience. But that’s it, it never made me feel anything, there was no desire or passion. I just felt withdrawn from it, my heart never racing. Worse still, one scene I remember originally thinking was “clever” turned out to be closer to sexual assault than sensual love making!

Don’t get me wrong though, because while my eyes and experiences may have matured to shine new light onto Cruel Intentions, I still thoroughly enjoyed it, partly by hanging onto the memories from before, and partly because it’s a simple dark comedy with fun sexual humour, which you can step away from and just accept it for what it is. Reese Witherspoon still exudes a charming quirkiness that instantly attracts and warms you to her; and while Sarah Michelle Geller never quite manages to win you over as much, feeling not off limits but rather one step too far. Too femme fatale, too unlikeable. But then, I’ve preferred blondes over brunettes anyway!

Ryan Phillippe & Reese Witherspoon - Cuel Intentions

There is always a risk when you go back to watch the films of our youth, that they don’t hit the high expectations we remember, that we’ve tinted the memories in their favour. Thankfully, Cruel Intentions while not anything like I remembered still felt completely correct. It’s matured and while the story doesn’t hold up anymore, the dark, longing charm that made the film such a naughty indulgence of my youth is still there. It’s never going to be a classic, but I still think of it fondly, my heart still skipping an inexplicable beat when I see the spine of the case in myriad of DVDs, that sense of adolescent teasing, but sadly for it, for however much we all need to give it for time to time to our temptations, it’s now a case that the chase is better than the prize.

(8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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