One night I sat at my chair, bored and tired, sifting through Netflix looking for something to watch. I came across the highly debated-upon film, Cruel Intentions, and decided to look more into it. The first thing I noticed was its incredibly mediocre score on Rotten Tomatoes, sporting a 48%, with an average rating of 5.3/10. This trend followed through metacritic, where it was rated at a 5.6/10. That being said, Roger Ebert had apparently rated it at a 3/4, saying it was “refreshing,” “smart and merciless.” This peaked my interest even more, due to my respect for Roger Ebert as a movie reviewer.
All of these reviews sent really mixed messages. Half of critics think it’s decent, and the other half think it’s bad. To add onto that, I’ve heard many people have praised it for its dealings with teenage sexuality, while the others think it’s over the top. I took these conflicting opinions and decided I myself should take a look at the movie, and see what it was all about. Coming together into my first semi-formal movie review. Finally, spoiler alert, this is in depth, and you shouldn’t read this if you wanna watch the movie later, blind. Also SHOUT OUTS TO MY FRIEND BRENDAN WHO BASICALLY HELPED ME PUT THIS TOGETHER/POLISH MY IDEAS AND ADD SEVERAL OF HIS OWN THAT ARE IN THIS!
The Movie as a Whole
Being the overly-cynical person I am, I’ll start with what was okay about the movie…
The characters weren’t uninteresting, or one-dimensional. They had some differing actions, and drives that constantly changed what they were doing. This wasn’t executed perfectly, but no matter what, I’d rather have an over the top character than one that is overtly one-dimensional and plain. The story wasn’t incredibly straight forward, and there were a decent amount of twists and turns. Once again, this wasn’t executed perfectly, but it at least made it somewhat engaging and not uninteresting. The topics discussed and brought up in the film were I think progressive for the time, which is nice to have brought into the limelight. As with most big-budget films (maybe excluding Michael Bay), its cinematography was spot on, it had some genuinely funny moments/lines, and the acting wasn’t god awful. It had some clever symbolism, and certain scenes were definitely well made. You can tell a lot of effort was actually put into the film, and wasn’t shot together lazily.
Now, everything I disliked about the film…
Going into this, I had zero expectations or thoughts on the movie as a whole. I didn’t even read the plot summary from Netflix. This being said, I absolutely despised 90% of the film. So much that I had to split it into all these categories… So this is why I don’t like it.
Firstly, and most importantly, the characters are not human. None of the things the characters do have any sort of realistic drive or depth behind them, they just do them for reasons. This makes it incredibly difficult to have a connection or feel for any of the characters.
The two main characters of the film are stepbrother and stepsister, Sebastian and Kathryn. They are both incredibly sexually active (not a bad thing, necessarily), and decide to randomly manipulate people, including each other, for fun. They constantly mess with people’s lives for no reason. Do they ever clarify why they have these issues or do these things? No. They’re evil for the purpose of being evil. I guess some people are just naturally devils.
Later, Sebastian is supposedly changing, and falling in love with a side character (Annette), but he continuously makes these decisions that show he hasn’t changed at all. One may say this is to show an inner conflict in him, but he messes up the relationship 3 TIMES! At that point, you’re just messing with people’s heads and make no sense whatsoever. At least Kathryn stays evil throughout the movie, but he, he just consistently makes conflicting actions that make the audience wonder “what the hell are you doing?”
The two main side characters, Cecile, and Annette are also not developed whatsoever, nor do their decisions make sense. Cecile is coming from an all-girls school, and therefore has not been around guys before, causing her to be increasingly curious sexually, which is natural. But she acts like a toddler in every way, and this is not explained. She is consistently taken advantage of and has no backstory. All we know is her overbearing mother and previous experience has caused her to be inexperienced in a lot of things I guess? I don’t know if it’s the script, or the actress, or both, but she comes off as if she hasn’t developed past the age of 5 or 6, and it makes the sexuality thing a lot worse than it would have normally been.
Annette’s original role was to be this “holier than thou” character to counteract the “horrid” decisions of the two main characters, and somehow change them, but instead, she just throws away all of her beliefs at the drop of a hat. She has been told by many to stay away from Sebastian, because of his manipulative behavior. This, combined with her beliefs (she wrote an article in a published magazine about why she would wait until marriage to have sex) should just having her stay away from the guy. Instead, as of the first conversation with him, she already starts to fall for him. He doesn’t do anything overly nice (in fact he’s kind of a douche), and there is no new information convincing her he is a nice guy, but apparently his physical appearance is enough to get her to like him. There are an increasing amount of scenarios that are obvious ploys for him to get into her pants, and yet she complies. Finally, once they begin “dating,” (even though she has a boyfriend back home in Kansas, who she’s been dating for a year (she throws away that moral too)) Sebastian makes 3 incredibly horrible decisions that would make a lot of people forget about. Yet, she forgives him, ALL 3 TIMES! I understand there are a lot of on again, off again relationships, and that’s fine. Not everyone makes decisions that I would, but at a point it gets ridiculous, and it’s hard to feel bad for a character at that point.
All of the background characters are also not human. The one character I actually liked, the music teacher, actually acted like a nice, well-mannered human being whose main goal was to get Cecile to like him. This all makes sense, and it doesn’t go anywhere ridiculous, until we find he’s now being used as Kathryn’s sex toy on a daily basis, but still is “in love” with Cecile enough to beat up Sebastian later for something he did. His one drive, and reason for being a good character is destroyed because he can’t keep himself off of another woman I guess. There are other, also poorly-written characters, but they don’t have any real impact on the story, so I’m gonna stop here.
Originally, the entire plot behind the film was to get back at a girl (Cecile) for stealing the main female character’s (Kathryn’s) boyfriend, by creating a reputation for her as a slut. This was developed early on, and not poorly, however, very soon after they create the reason for the whole movie, they destroy it. Cecile isn’t at all interested in her boyfriend, and they went on one date, that never continued. This is stated 10 minutes in, and defeats the whole purpose of the movie. Despite this, they continue with the plan, because reasons.
Next, the side plot of the movie is a bet between Kathryn and Sebastian, about whether or not he can get Annette to sleep with him. If Kathryn wins, she gets Sebastian’s car, and if he wins, he gets to have sex with his stepsister (more on this later). This has no real motivation behind it besides the fact they can, and that makes for a really dumb plot. What you find out later is it’s a mechanism for Sebastian to change his ways, and suddenly become a good guy, but as I talked about later, that doesn’t happen. Instead, his decisions just become that of a complete jerk, and finally, he is killed saving Annette from a car, because that’s the only way to redeem his character and forgive him I guess. Good writing guys.
Finally, Kathryn’s reputation of a good girl is entirely ruined because Annette was recently given Sebastian’s journal, and in it is the truth about her. Annette and Cecile copy it and hand it out to all of the school, finally ruining her life as Valedictorian/President of the student body. Then Annette takes the car and journal of her dead boyfriend, and drives off into the sunset. What’s the message of this movie? I don’t know. I guess, you get what’s coming to you? It really doesn’t send off anything meaningful or good, and it does quite the opposite with a lot of other messages. These will be touched on in the next topic.
There are a lot of other, smaller things done poorly about the movie. Very little is established at all, and most of what is able to happen, and the scenarios they’re in are just kind of set up. Very little is explained. Also, the music never fits the scene. Lots of times it makes it feel mysterious, or secretive, when there’s nothing mysterious about the entire scene. They’ll be having a conversation and it’ll feel like someone is about to die. It never fits. Tons of other small things are just infuriating, but I don’t want to nitpick too much.
A lot of discussion was had on whether the sexuality in this movie was relevant, helpful, or well done, and here’s my thoughts on that, as well as other social issues that it brought up.
The first thing I thought about this movie was how overtly sexual it was. There are a lot of movies similar to this, but never have I seen a movie entirely created to sell sex, and I think this one is. There are a lot of almost pornographic scenes in movies, but lots of times there are purposes, or it is surrounded by a good film so it doesn’t matter. This, instead, just had sexual scenes to have sexual scenes. They were incredibly long, and uncomfortable, and featured a lot of weird scenarios. Sometimes it’s okay if the discomfort has a purpose, but looking at the movie as a whole and its messages, it didn’t seem to.
Firstly, there’s the fact that two of them are siblings, and there were at least 3 scenes where they were all over each other, inappropriately. This takes the discomfort to the next level for a lot of people, and was generally just unnecessary. It was originally established as a sort of drive for Sebastian, but when he can finally have her, she doesn’t let him, so it didn’t matter in the first place and just serves to make it weird on the audience.
Next, there’s the scenes with Cecile. Now, overall, they’re overly awkward and weird because it seems like she’s 5, and in very sexual scenarios, but there’s something else much worse in my opinion. There’s a scene where she’s with Sebastian, and he gets her drunk with a Long Island iced tea. He then begins to photograph her, and eventually it gets to him blackmailing her to let him go down on her. She didn’t want this, and only consented to this because he forced her to, which isn’t consent. Then, later, she voices her concern to Kathryn, who essentially says because she didn’t do anything to him sexually, she wasn’t taken advantage of, and also blames her for not doing anything to stop him. Then, it gets into the fact that it didn’t feel bad, so it’s a good thing, and she should be grateful. This is just… not good at all. This was obviously made 20 years ago, but it’s still a horrible message, and really bad for the culture surrounding these scenarios and discussions. This leads us to the next thing…
A lot of people praised this movie for bringing up this next topic. After the last discussion, Kathryn talks about how women should be allowed to be openly sexual without being shamed, or called sluts. This was obviously progressive for its time, but it does it incredibly wrong. Kathryn brings this topic up 2 or 3 times throughout the movie, and originally I was for it, but upon a further glance, they fudged it. Kathryn turns into the human embodiment of the devil, showing everyone what not to do, and becoming the one person everyone despises in the end. She is continually pushed as the main enemy of the story, and becoming someone you should never trust. That being said, they shouldn’t have had her be the one to bring this up if they were trying to push this message, because it gives people the wrong idea, and take away the discussion it could have created around this topic. It ruins the entire idea behind it, and instead tells people that everyone who is openly sexual and female will be like her.
This next problem is quick, but still important. When talking about Cecile’s date with Kathryn’s old boyfriend, they develop the fact that she’s bulimic. This, however, is not touched on for the rest of the film, and is then trivialized/forgotten about. Once again, sending a poor message about something that is a real issue.
Finally, there are two groups of people I think are handled unfairly. The two gay characters and one black character are pigeon-holed into the obvious stereotypes of themselves, and therefore that becomes their character. The music teacher is African-American, and originally, as I said, I thought he was a great character. Then, when he gets fired, it is touched on that the woman doesn’t like him because he’s black, and spouts out all these horrific things about him. Once that happens, he is transformed into the bad, inhuman character, ruining all the depth he had originally. Then all you really remember is his relationship with this woman. The two gay characters are also overly generalized, and taken advantage of. Their character description just becomes the fact that they’re gay, and goes nowhere further than that. Originally, I thought this may be a way to call out a problem, but with the way everything else is handled, I don’t think so. I think it’s just typical writing.
I understand when this movie came out, but a lot of these issues were praised by others, and I think they shouldn’t. This doesn’t always make it an inherently worse film, in the way it was made, but they trivialize issues and fall into the same traps as everyone else does. They do nothing special here, and instead kind of make a lot of these matters worse. If there was a side plot about these things that developed them, it would maybe be excusable, but it’s not.
Cruel Intentions is a poorly-written, pretty meaningless piece of cinema, that from what I see, was created for the intention of selling sex. The characters weren’t real, the story was all over the place, and had no reason of being there, and the message is inconsistent/poorly done overall. Why anyone can think this is a good film is beyond me, and how it’s within 8% of the Sandlot on Rotten Tomatoes, I’ll never know. It poorly handles social issues, and although it can be entertaining at times, the main saving graces just have to do with the large budget and not hilarious, god-awful acting in it. If I were to score it, I’d give it a 2 out of 10, simply because there was decent effort put in. I am certainly not going to be viewing the 2 sequels that exist.
Hope y’all enjoyed, and I apologize for my overwhelming cynicism and criticism. This was actually shorter than expected.