NOVEMBER 26, 2010

Few films have ever matched the dynamic of “Cruel Intentions.” Sure, the name is now synonymous with countless sequels, like the franchise “Wild Things,” coming close to becoming X-rated versions of their predecessors. Still, the original film contained a class and sophistication that neither of the sequels could match.

Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Reese Witherspoon would probably not be where they are today without this first legitimate venture under their belts. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays the sexy but evil temptress Kathryn, playing the role of the Catholic school student body leader, then turning around and snorting coke out of her cross necklace. Kathryn’s step-brother, the sophisticated and debonaire Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe), struggles with the line between his reputation as the city’s most prominent ladies’ man and the developing “good guy” who works him over for the chaste and virtuous Annette. Through a bet between the step-siblings, Sebastian finds that choosing between love and lust can be more complex than it appears.

Reese Witherspoon was never more vivacious and completely embodied the perfect woman in Annette Hargrove. Her sophisticated speech, mixed with her unwillingness to fall for Sebastian’s arsenal of sexual games, makes her a formidable woman. None of Witherspoon’s performances following or prior have ever matched the character of Annette as she cracks open the apparent hollow shell of Sebastian. Contrast Annette with the dimwitted Cecile (Selma Blair), who folds to every one of Sebastian’s sexual advances and becomes utterly unattractive, reinstating Annette as the culmination of every man’s sexual desires.

The film screams sex, but in an honorable and tasteful way. “Cruel Intentions” is just what the title suggests and earns its R rating. However, this film screams classic, matching the likes of “Varsity Blues” and “10 Things I Hate About You.” These films signify a generation and deliver a nostalgic feel when viewing each of them more than a decade later.

The twisting story of “Cruel Intentions” comes from a French epistolary novel “Les Liaisons dangereuses” and rivals a Greek tragedy with the many levels of relationships coinciding, on-screen and off-screen. This dynamic also brings out all different relationship types: heterosexual, homosexual, the sexual desire between step-siblings, the couples that want to wait until marriage, that have to hide their relationships, and the relationship between a mother and daughter. These relationships encompass the film’s story and create an original piece of American cinema.

“Cruel Intentions” missed any Academy success, but the commercial success was far superior to anything at the time. Garnering multiple Teen Choice and MTV awards, the proof that this film represents a generation is difficult to argue.

Filled with breakthrough performances still representing these actors and actresses to this day and introducing sexual discovery to a generation over a decade ago, “Cruel Intentions” continues to carry its same weight today without falling into the oldie, but goodie pile, remaining a pop-culture icon. Though the film’s iconic image was Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair sharing a passionate kiss, the film reaches far further than just shock value. It becomes one of the most memorable films from that generation and for that generation.

March 5, 1999

Roger Kumble

Roger Kumble

“Les Liaisons dangereuses”
by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

Columbia Pictures
Sony Pictures

(for strong sexual dialogue and sexual situations involving teens, language and drug use)

97 minutes

Theo van de Sande

Edward Shearmur

Ryan Mikel
Jeff Freeman

Sarah Michelle Gellar
Ryan Phillippe
Reese Witherspoon
Selma Blair
Louise Fletcher
Christine Baranski
Joshua Jackson
Sean Patrick Thomas
Tara Reid

Neal H. Moritz

$10.5 million

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