Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Cruel Intentions, Ridiculous Cheese

In 2014, I did a series of reviews of films from 1999. I picked out films that were higher profile and show how our culture has changed. Blair Witch, American Pie and American Beauty were big hitters. Blair Witch rewrote how one could do horror, introduced us to viral marketing and started the found footage genre. American Pie brought back the R rated comedy and might be the goodbye to white teen America. American beauty aged horribly but was the Best Picture Winner. A lower profile but still entertaining film was Cruel Intentions.

Cruel Intentions was a film adaptation of a French novel that had previously been adapted for film as Dangerous Liaisons. The original French novel depicts completely decadent and sexually manipulative and perverse elites of the ancien regime just prior to the French Revolution. Hmmm, perversion and enjoying it seem to be end stage symptoms for cultures. As a '90s film set in a rich kid social world, the intrigue is teens using an abusing one another in the "court" of their tony private school. There is love, manipulation and death.

How did I miss this as a chance to discuss the onset of Weimerica? It fits so well. Just as American Pie heralded the return of the R rated for "titties" comedy and put sex back into teen movies, Cruel Intentions brought even more to the table minus the nudity. In my discussion with Millenial Woes and Antidem, I claimed that the real start for the renewed degeneration push, because it had been tried in the '70s, was after the AIDS cocktail turned HIV/AIDS into something you could live with and not a three year death sentence. America goes from layering, flannel and scaring teens about sex to do it now, do it everywhere and do it in every way.

Cruel Intentions fits this. Here is a film set in the late '90s where every teen is getting down. Not just active sex lives but things a bit friskier. Let's count the ways: there is the quasi-incest tension between the two leads who are step-siblings, there is miscegenation, girl-on-girl action, discussion of anal opportunities, homosexual acts and the entire plot is about deflowering for sport a 17 year old who is publicly committed to waiting for marriage and then doing so with an even younger woman just as revenge. These were experimental dalliances not set in stone "my lifestyle and you better legislate for it as portrayed now in Hollywood. Because things have slid so far and so fast, it is hard to explain just how many eyebrows were raised in the theater when Sarah Michelle Gellar's wonderfully evil Kathryn says to Sebastian "you can put it anywhere". This was an edge in 1999, now it's assumed part of the deal on Tinder.

There is something else about this film that prevents it from being duplicated. Thanks to MTV's myriad of terrible reality television of rich teens and celebrity homes (Cribs), the mystery of elite teens is gone. We know they suck. They suck horribly hard. The reality series My Super Sweet Sixteen was full of spoiled young women with the minds of 5 year olds. These are teenagers you want to punch in the face that you would never expect to manipulate people or even have an attention span longer than 3 seconds. There is no "Kathyrn", but there are many of Selma Blair's "Cecile" out there. The only thing realistic is the wealth they take for granted, as they do not even live in apartments or homes as well decorated or constructed as those sets and shooting locations in the film. Is our elite crasser than or more gauche than the elite of yore? Yes, I watched Queen of Versailles, too.

Along those lines, a scene stealer, and is she not a scene stealer in everything, is Christine Baranski as the WASP mother of Cecile. Baranski has a thin, light eyed and haired look that Hollywood loves to use for upper class WASP women, which is a bit odd since Baranski is Polish. It is a WASP long gone. Do the old Optimates still exist? She stole every scene she was in (with drink always in hand) for the short lived show "Cybil". It is partly her voice and delivery. She has a smooth, crisp tone when speaking, and chews through scenes in this flick. The entire "J'accuse" scene with her and Sean Patrick Token is fantastic for her hammed up anger. A bit with her and Phil Hartman playing an angry rich couple simultaneously discovering their mutual infidelity would have been a killer SNL skit.

This is on Netflix now, and the perfect fluff movie. This was a cheap film to make as they had a bunch of young actors trying to make the leap and bite into something a bit more adult. It is a shallow, popcorn flick, but highly entertaining. The casting caught a bunch of people at their peak. Reese Witherspoon before she lost weight and her full breasts, Ryan Philippe at the end of his twink "White Squall" era, a young Selma Blair and the deliciously evil Sarah Michelle Gellar. Witherspoon is in mom jeans for half her scenes. Six years ago when I had 10 readers, I wrote about this film and specifically Gellar before, and it is even truer today. She hit every single button for little vamp in this flick. She supplies the heat, and it is a shame she never grew up into an adult frame. She was not built for it.

Does the movie take you for a ride? Yes it does. The soundtrack is fantastic. It was just missing "Six Underground" by the Sneaker Pimps to complete the vibe, which is ironic since it was used in trailers but not the film itself. Tell me when watching this with whiskey in hand that you don't laugh when the guy finds Kathryn's cross is full of coke and shakes his head at her to "Bittersweet Symphony". Rides? The vintage Jaguar Sebastian cruises in is ridiculous. Car design has peaked and that beauty of a two seater is a reminder. If I could place a date, it'd be early '70s with American muscle cars and Bertone designs. Their costuming was well done and for such a little androgynous sprite of a figure, they managed to make Gellar look like a slash of black in many moments.Set design, costuming and soundtrack all work together here.

If there is one complaint, it is that this was not set in a college age era for the characters. Having the leads be 18-22 would have felt more appropriate, but also reveals the changes. Situations that we would have expected 18-22 year olds to face or consider have drifted down to our 14 year olds. This is not "Last Tango In Paris" learn from an elder storyline but fully armed and operational youths teaching youths. At the very same time, this was happening in the music industry. By the end of the '80s, the music industry had figured out it could use video to sell a performer as a visual product rather than a vocal talent. There was an unspoken idea of using +18 year olds that even caused producers to push Christina Aguilera away at first, but then Britney Spears came along. The sexual salesmanship that went with 25 year old Madonna and Janet Jackson could be applied to a 17 year old. The line of woman and girl had blurred. We still live with it today.

It is a fun flick. If one knows of the Young Adult books, Cruel Intentions feels like a Young Adult film. Difference being it is about winners behaving badly, not some stupid nerd who really wants to hook up with a smart, cute girl who doesn't know she is cute but is like special to the nerd, man (that's every John Green young adult novel). It is a teen and young adult film, so it is not for you now, but we can laugh at what was the cool edge in 1999. It is on Netflix right now, so if you want to turn your mind off, and take a stroll down '90s nostalgia lane, watch it.


Thales said...

Sooo going to the Special Hell for enjoying this...


Laguna Beach Fogey said...

Never heard of it.

In 1999 I was still into the previous year's release 'The Last Days of Disco' from Whit Stillman. 'American Beauty' I only saw a couple of years ago and thought it was overrated. I enjoyed 'American Pie,' but let's be honest, it came nowhere close to anything from John Hughes.

I've had an insider's look at one of the guys reponsible for those smutty MTV reality series. Know his family. In case anyone's interested.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Loved Last Days of Disco. Fucking tremendous. "Scrooge McDuck is soooo sexy".

Anonymous said...

I never watched Cruel Intentions but I admit that I was a fan of Sarah Michelle Gellar in the '90s, Buffy was my favorite TV show and I also loved those teenage slasher flicks like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer (this last having both SMG and Phillipe as a couple).

Kevin Michael Grace said...

Thanks for the shout out to Christine Baranski, who is gold. I especially like her in The Ref, where her delivery of three words--"Slipper socks: medium!" (www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovw-cau1N9I)--encapsulates her hatred of her oily, poisonous mother-in-law, well played by Glynis Johns. Fine cast in this movie, including Dennis Leary and Kevin Spacey before they became intolerable and, in particular, the lovely Judy Davis, surely the best of her generation at playing tragic women.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Kevin, The Ref is a bit of Christmas Movie Gold. It was Spacey's dry run for his oscar winning role in American Beauty and you're right about Leary. He went soft after that, played the tragic drunk in stuff plus he lost his funny.

Suburban_elk said...

This was an edge in 1999, now it's assumed part of the deal on Tinder.

The actual data on that would be interesting. Yeah it is prurient and a joke, but on the other hand, if the sex behavior and proclivities of people are considered from the standpoint of the public health.

she [Gellar] never grew up into an adult frame. She was not built for it.

That raises the question of what makes a fitting adult actress frame (for a woman). Women actresses of course have a lot of gripes on that question, of what is the allowable shape for them as women, in movies today. They also complain about the roles that are written for them.

I am not current enough on the movie scene to give examples; but those their gripes might be a starting point for the theme of women's uncertain and confused place in this society.

Gunnar von Cowtown said...

"I claimed that the real start for the renewed degeneration push, because it had been tried in the '70s, was after the AIDS cocktail turned HIV/AIDS into something you could live with and not a three year death sentence. America goes from layering, flannel and scaring teens about sex to do it now, do it everywhere and do it in every way."

This is a really interesting observation. I've been out of the whole dating marketplace since ~1999 when I met the soon-to-be-Mrs. von Cowtown. But, for that entire decade, American women were absolutely convinced that the burgeoning AIDS epidemic was going to utterly decimate the heterosexual population any day now. The Hiv Menace might not have reigned in the worst hypergamous impulses of all women, but it certainly made the vast majority of the high-quality ones think twice.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Gunnar - THAT'S my point about the '90s and the 'turn' in sex culture. Heteros were legit scared enough in the early90s but then once AIDS stopped being a quick death sentence people changed. Huge difference between 1994 and 1999. Id even add the Clinton scandal which was in that same period. Sex positive feminists took off then.

Gunnar von Cowtown said...

Yeah, you're absolutely right. The Hiv cocktail ending the 3-year death sentence changed behaviors. The other piece of the puzzle is the hetero HIV epidemic failing to ever materialize. I started college in 1991 and got inundated with safe sex propaganda non-stop. "IT'S NOT JUST A GAY DISEASE! REALLY, WE MEAN IT! WEAR TWO CONDOMS WHEN YOU BANG SORRORITY GIRLS OR YOU'LL GET THE AIDS!" That's barely hyperbole, man. People were friggin' hysterical.

By the late 90s no heterosexuals who weren't needle-drug users or Magic Johnson seemed to be affected. Thus, a lot of people realized the "Hetero-HIV" propaganda was just that... propaganda. These two things made AIDS a lot less scary and changed behaviors.