A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Cruel Intentions is a 1999 dark comedy in which a pair of wealthy step-siblings wager on whether or not the stepbrother can seduce and have sex with a virgin. "F--k" is frequently used; other profanity includes "motherf----r," "a--hole," "s--t," "bitch," "p---y," and "whore." Homophobic slurs are also used. Sex, including oral and anal sex, is discussed in a variety of ways and in a variety of euphemisms. Characters overhear teens having sex. "The jock" character brags to his friends about forcing a woman to have sex with him and is later revealed to be having liaisons with a gay teen -- who helps the male lead character so he can blackmail the jock. The stepbrother is presented as someone who sees women as objects to seduce, take advantage of, and discard at the earliest possibility; he posts a sex tape online of his therapist's daughter. And yet, the stepbrother emerges as a "sympathetic character" when he starts having feelings for the virgin girl he has resolved to have sex with no matter what it takes, and because of this change, his past misdeeds are overlooked and forgiven. While this dark comedy was based on the 1762 French novel Les Liasons Dangereuses, much of its content feels uncomfortable now, as the #MeToo movement has changed the way society addresses and discusses sexual harassment, coercion, and assault.
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What's the story?
Based on the novel Dangerous Liaisons, CRUEL INTENTIONS centers on step-siblings Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Geller) and Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe), rich New York City teens who amuse themselves by manipulating and betraying other people. Kathryn has been rejected by her latest flame in favor of Cecile (Selma Blair), and she concocts an elaborate plan for revenge. Sebastian has his sights set on Annette (Reese Witherspoon), who has declared that she will remain a virgin until marriage. The film documents the outcomes of these schemes, with some unintended, and dire, consequences.
Is it any good?
The novel on which Cruel Intentions is based has been filmed several times, but it took a special stroke of genius to reset it in the particularly malicious world of wealthy Upper East Side teens. The performances are generally quite good, and the contemporary setting suits the story perfectly. Filmed in settings of dizzying opulence, the atmosphere of indolent wealth is very strong and very real throughout.
The story exposes the dark side of people who appear good on the surface, and mature viewers will enjoy both the thrill of the badness and a sense of superiority over these very depraved characters. It's definitely not for tweens and young teens, but its themes of love, betrayal, manipulation, and cruelty will ring true for older teenagers. If you do decide to let your younger teen watch it, keep in mind they might need some guidance to unweave the subtleties of the story. In the end, though, the worst of the evil is punished and good prevails.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why the characters behave the way they do: Why is Kathryn so cruel? Why is Sebastian so unconcerned about the feelings of the women he takes advantage of? Is their social status a factor? What about their parents?
How does the movie use comedy and satire to convey its deeper themes and meanings?
Do you think that Sebastian's growing affection for Annette makes up for all of his prior transgressions? Why or why not?
- In theaters: March 5, 1999
- On DVD or streaming: August 3, 1999
- Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Phillippe, Sarah Michelle Gellar
- Director: Roger Kumble
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: High School
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and explicit sexual situations
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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