1999), directed and written by Roger Kumble for Columbia Pictures and known popularly as "Cruel Intentions 1" because of all the sequels, is a sordid tale of skulduggery and bitchery that flows from the more high-brow Dangerous Liaisons, which itself was based on a 1782 French play by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. When a film traces its roots back to the time of the French Revolution, you know the story must be evocative of something, and in this case, it resonates with all sorts of nasty emotions.2012
The Cruel Intentions plot is complex. Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") is young, popular and rich. She feels wronged by her former boyfriend Court Reynolds (Charlie O'Connell), who left her and now is dating the cute and naive Cecile (Selma Blair). Not having a way to hurt him directly, she asks her step-brother Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillippe) to compromise her in order to wreck Court's relationship with Cecile (but also simply to wreak vengeance on this girl that stole her man).
Sebastian, though, has other plans. His eyes are set on the virginal Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon), whom he also wants to ruin socially just because he can. Kathryn and Sebastian make a wager as to whether Sebastian can seduce Annette, the stakes being Sebastian's roadster versus sex "anywhere" with Kathryn.
Annette is staying temporarily with Sebastian's aunt Helen Rosemond (Louise Fletcher). Sebastian tries to win Annette over, but she is warned off by annoying Mrs. Caldwell (Christine Baranski), who happens to be Cecile's mother. This makes Sebastian so upset that he decides to seduce Cecile, which is made easier by the fact that Kathryn has become Cecile's informal social adviser.
Cecile, meanwhile, is now seeing Ronald Clifford (Sean Patrick Thomas), her music teacher. Kathryn mentions this to Cecile's mother, and Mrs. Caldwell obligingly does what she can to disrupt that affair. Sebastian then blackmails Cecile and seduces her. Kathryn, advising Cecile, tells her that this is a great opportunity to learn about love from Sebastian so that she can better please Ronald, so she should go "all the way" with Sebastian while she has the chance.
Sebastian, though, isn't really interested in Cecile at all once he has gotten his revenge. Instead, he still wants to seduce Annette, who likes him, but not enough to sleep with him. Finally, he changes her mind, but then he spurns her out of sheer spite. Annette, distraught, retreats to a friend's mansion, where Sebastian finds her and, changing his mind again, successfully seduces her. Having lost the bet, Kathryn offers herself to Sebastian, but now he is only interested in Annette. Hurt at being rejected so off-handedly, Kathryn threatens to ruin Annette if Sebastian won't be with her, so Sebastian puts aside his feelings and breaks up with his true love, Annette, so that Kathryn won't have any reason to hurt her.
Kathryn now reveals that she knew all along that Sebastian was in love with Annette. She takes perverse delight in the fact that she ruined his relationship with Annette. To further inflict hurt, she tells Ronald that Sebastian seduced Cecile, causing Ronald to seek out and fight Sebastian. Annette, frightened for Sebastian, rushes out to assist him, but is so excited that she runs in the path of a car. Sebastian pushes her out of the way, but is himself hit and killed.
Cecile has a copy of Sebastian's journal, in which he detailed all of Kathryn's romantic maneuvers. She sets out to ruin Kathryn any way that she can, which is the final twist in the Cruel Intentions plot.
The plot of "Cruel Intentions 1" is intricate, like that of the play. The seemingly endless loop of seductions and double-crosses, though, touches a chord in many viewers and engrosses them. The careless and savage way in which Kathryn manipulates and ruins blameless people simply to satisfy her own hurts and slights shows the abuse to which power of a different form than usual may be employed. Just like a gun, affairs of the heart can be deadly when mis-used.
Here, the power is not that of money, or fame, or occupation - it is that of raw attractiveness and cunning. Many people wonder what it would be like to be able to manipulate others because of blindingly good looks and the sheer absence of scruples, and "Cruel Intentions 1" delivers one set of answers to that question.
The actors are very attractive and motivated, but overall the performances are less than stellar. All of the leads have a few quirky scenes which they play for the maximum titillating effect, and that works up to a point, but it is all sizzle, no steak. For the Cruel Intentions plot to work, though, Kathryn (and, to a lesser extent as a "great lover," Sebastian) has to be convincing as being utterly ruthless and insanely desirable. Not everybody will find her (or him) to be "all that," at least not to the extent of being able to make people dance like puppets on the way to their downfall.
"Cruel Intentions 1" has developed a cult following because it has a few scenes that are so notorious that they have become almost iconic. Sebastian's seduction of Cecile is one, but the true champion is a totally unnecessary, but gratuitously essential, "tutorial" by Kathryn for Cecile on how to kiss properly. This entails the two girls kissing, with Kathryn only pretending that it is genuine while feeling nothing, while Cecile enjoys it just a little bit too much, to the viewer's voyeuristic delight. It is quite possibly the best-known movie kiss of all time, which is quite an achievement for a film that otherwise is fairly glitzy but pedestrian, all hat and no cattle.
Reese Witherspoon was excellent playing the only noble character in "Cruel Intentions 1," and there may have been some real romance on the set, as she later married her co-star Phillippe and gave him two children. Selma Blair made the seduction scenes (particularly the climactic kissing scene with Gellar) work. Gellar is the real weak link aside from the kiss she doesn't come across as a scheming dragon lady, but more like a girl playing dress-up and trying ferociously hard to act like she thinks a dragon lady should act. The ending of the film is a bit of a let-down, because you know that in real life, the Kathryns of the world usually get away with their contemptible machinations.
The final scene is enhanced by The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony," and there are some excellent shots of New York City throughout. The famous Cruel Intentions car, which to some people is the real star of the film, the one that Kathryn and Sebastian bet against, is a Jaguar XK140 roadster. Personally, I'd prefer the car....
Place this one in the "guilty pleasure" category, along with films like "Xanadu" and "Barbarella." The Cruel Intentions plot is all style, all flash, without an ounce of substance and coming complete with a melodramatic ending. That, however, is enough to entertain. You may not find the story very uplifting, but you also may not be able to turn your eyes away from it.
Below is the theatrical trailer from "Cruel Intentions 1."
|Phillippe, Gellar, Witherspoon, Blair - Blair always gets cut out of this shot|
|Director Kumble with the stars|
|Selma Blair is a riot as Cecile|
|Sebastian seducing Annette|
|Cecile thinking hard about love|
|The notorious kiss|
|He hooked her, now wants to lose her|
|Let me tell you how it will be....|
|Selma and Sarah with a lame re-enactment|
|Kathryn and her secret habit|
|Kathryn does not look impressed by Annette's perkiness|
|This Cruel Intentions gif gives a taste of the kissing scene|
|Besides the kiss, all anyone wants to see is Sebastian's car....|
|Close up. Massage those gums!|
Below is the theatrical trailer from "Cruel Intentions 1."