Cruel Intentions

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By Tim Barlow

My wife and I recently watched all six seasons of Gossip Girl on Netflix, routinely piling in at least two episodes a night.  I started off half-watching from the other couch, but by the end of season 1, I was right there: guessing plot lines, reacting aloud at how “S” was being a B, making up dances to the theme song, you get the idea.

If you’re not yet familiar, Gossip Girl is about a handful of trust fund high school kids on the upper east side.  Eventually they go to college, and then quickly they’re just young adults (I don’t think any of the main characters attended college past freshman year).  But the point being, because the characters are so wealthy and have such a safety net, they don’t have or need much else going on besides dating each other, scheming, lying, oh and trying to outsmart a mysterious internet gossip blogger.  Hmm, when I put it like that, it doesn’t sound very awesome, maybe I’m not doing this justice.  Did I mention Chuck and Blair?  Well regardless, it’s some highly addictive crap.

But despite my willingness to divulge a wanton  fling with (x-o-x-o) Gossip Girl, I have been dreading this week since Craig and I first made our All-time top-30 movie lists, seven months ago.  It would’ve been a lie to not include Cruel Intentions on my list, but I’ve been dreading the task of explaining it all to the internet.  The plot is ridiculous, like full-on bat shit crazy.  The acting is equally awful.  But I have to accept that despite everything this movie has going against it, for whatever reason I really liked it towards the end of high school and into early college.  And despite the way that Ryan Phillippe reads his lines (a mix of over pronunciation and almost like he has a jolly rancher tucked in his cheek) I still wanted to be his character.  Good looking, great with the ladies, smart, and rich.  Taking a step back, it’s not hard to see that Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Geller in Cruel Intentions are clear precursors to Chuck and Blair.  Cruel Intentions is Gossip Girl: The Movie.  So what is it with me and this stuff?  I know it’s terrible, shallow, mostly amoral, crap.  So why would I gravitate towards this guilty pleasure?  Following around rich, good looking kids, with no real world problems.  And that’s when it hit me.

This weekend in the Barlow house a valve under our dishwasher decided to begin leaking, pooling water onto our sub-floor and leading to several high stress hours complete with a shop-vac (which I later realized was not of the wet/dry variety) and me nearly electrocuting myself.  Earlier that same day I found myself fruitlessly talking dollars with a car salesman, who was trying in vain to convince me that the more expensive car was actually the better deal – an experience I liken to being stabbed in the nut.  And it was in these everyday, real-world life experiences that I totally understood my love of Cruel Intentions and Gossip Girl.  Imagine a life where the only stress is brought on by petty alliances, or deciding what to wear to a diplomat ball, or whether you should go to Yale or Columbia.  No DIY kitchen remodels.  No haggling with car people.  No making budget spreadsheets with your spouse.  No bad hair days or ironing a shirt last minute, or worrying what you’re going to be when you grow up.  Cruel Intentions was just blatant escapism.  I know that in the broader sense, I’m already very well off, and that more money would just bring new stresses, and that it really can’t buy happiness and blah blah blah.  But I also know – for a fact – that money means a professional fixes that leaky valve under a dishwasher and it mean no conversations, ever again, with a Honda salesmen.  So maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the time I spent escaping through Cruel Intentions into their opulent, carefree world – but my poor ass still is; can’t believe I liked that shit.

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