I rarely watch television, but when I do I usually go for movies over TV shows. With the dearth of good movies lately, I find myself re-watching 80s and 90s classics when I feel like I need my film fix. I love basking in the nostalgia of Loser, But I’m a Cheerleader, Legally Blonde, 10 Things, American Beauty, etc. These are movies I watched in childhood, some of them when they first came out, but I was much too young to understand a lot of the darker themes in a few of these Dawson’s Creek-era movies (ex. Teaching Mrs. Tingle). Last night I watched Cruel Intentions for the third time in my life, and thoroughly enjoyed the film even more than before.
Why is that? I wondered. Maybe it was because I just haven’t seen a good movie in a while, but then I realized there was more to it than that. I liked C.I. not just because of the circa-’99 fashion, music and casting (opening with a Placebo song was pitch perfect, and I enjoyed seeing young Reese, Ryan, Sarah Michelle, Joshua Jackson, Selma Blair, etc. etc. etc.) but more so, I appreciated watching a movie with fully formed characters rather than just caricatures. This is especially true when those characters are female.
Sarah’s character is twisted, but difficult to hate. Her solemn soliloquy was on-par with Amy’s “cool girl” confession in Gone Girl:
“God forbid I exude confidence and enjoy sex. Do you think I relish the fact I have to act like Mary Sunshine 24/7 so I can be considered a lady? I’m the Marcia-fucking-Brady of the Upper East Side and sometimes I want to kill myself.”
Then there’s Ryan’s character, who may seem too-cool-for-school and just plain evil at first, but it’s pretty apparent that deep down he’s afraid to genuinely put himself out there. And far from the stereotype of the Puritanical prude Ryan initially writes her off as being, Reese’s character is actually more open-minded and receptive to love than he is, despite all of his big talk.
It isn’t just that. The movie also pokes fun at some of the backwards attitudes of the day, commenting on social issues in subtle ways that make a point without taking up too much plot space. For example, when Selma’s (black) cello teacher is confronted by her mother for putting the moves on her daughter and being ungrateful when she “got him off the streets”:
“I live on 59th and Park!” he responds instantly, almost making me choke on my popcorn.
Ryan’s friend, played by Josh J, is out and unashamed, but unlike the overdone flambuoyantly gay sidekicks we’d see in film in later years. Sure, he isn’t likeable, but neither are any of the characters. And yet it’s still a good movie.
Lastly, I like this movie because it makes its case without going over-the-top with punishing the villainess for her transgressions. We get it, C.I.; meaningful sex is better. And although I didn’t hate Sarah Michelle, I didn’t exactly feel bad when she was exposed, either. That being said, I didn’t feel a need for her to fall terminally ill (*cough* Tyler Perry *cough*), get rejected while half-naked and humiliatingly crying after a man, or be coerced to raise the baby of an unemployed stoner, most likely as a single mom because let’s be real (looking at you on both of these, Judd Apatow). Women in more recent films have suffered much worse fates for milder infractions.
What happened to movies?, I asked myself with a sigh as the final credits rolled. I know I’m still in my twenties and it’s a bit odd for me to be saying this, but they just don’t make them like they used to.