Sunday Night with Added SMG

A few years back, I was on a bus and the Goth girl and boy seated behind me were having a conversation about Sarah Michelle Gellar. One observed that she was killed in every movie she starred in, to which the other – rather unkindly I thought, as SMG saved our bacon many times over in her vampire slaying days – responded ‘Yeah, but she always comes back!’

Anyway, Sunday night just gone I watched a couple of films in which Sarah Michelle Gellar starred but did not die.

Cruel Intentions (1999)

SMG might not die but it doesn’t end well for her either. She plays Kathryn, a spoiled WASP aristo, who is manipulative and sexually precocious while presenting a ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ facade to the world. Kathryn bets her equally ‘nefarious’ stepbrother Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) that he won’t be able to seduce principled virgin Annette (Reese Witherspoon) when she transfers to their exclusive white bread college. Sebastian succeeds, sort of, but at the same time he falls totally for Annette and comes to see the error of his womanising ways. Only he is so besotted with the idea of holding on to Kathryn’s good opinion that he breaks up with Annette, pretending to still be a heartless seducer. Which is when it all turns pear shaped.

This is based on Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons (I can’t be arsed to look up the French, sorry), with American teens in lieu of the pampered darlings of the pre-Revolution French aristocracy. It’s entertaining enough in its way, but at the same time it all made me feel a bit uneasy. It was very hard to believe in the characters of Kathryn and Sebastian, the way in which adults appear to defer to them and the other characters fall in effortlessly with their plans. To me they were little more than spoiled brats, and I wanted to slap them both, and that was something that didn’t really work, even though I think it was part of the film’s MO that they come over that way. Sebastian as played by Phillippe just looked like a geek spouting naff chat up lines, somebody who should have had the crap knocked out of him at an early age, not matured into this little poison dwarf, while SMG didn’t really smoulder as a femme fatale – perhaps it was the association with Buffy in my mind, but when she tried to play sexy and ‘hard’ I just felt a bit embarrassed for her, while of course recognising that she is a very attractive young lady (just not in ‘that’ way). Witherspoon as the virginal but far from naive Annette acted them both off the screen, and at the end she is the one who wins, retaining her dignity while Sebastian dies and Kathryn is exposed for the arch schemer she really is, driving off into the sunset to the sound of The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony.

And so virtue triumphs over vice, which is as it should be, but at the same time virtue learns something about itself – Annette discovers that there is something to be said for surrendering to another, that sexuality and love aren’t so easily compartmentalised. But for me perhaps the most interesting moment in the film came when Kathryn attempted to explain/justify herself to Sebastian, addressing the discrepancy in behaviour expected of girls and boys, a subtext touching on gender stereotyping. Sebastian acts badly and doesn’t suffer for it, simply a case of ‘boys being boys’, a Don Juan who everybody will envy or humour, but Kathryn feels she has to pretend to be a ‘good girl’ or get torn apart, dismissed as ‘the village bike’, and the film’s ending proves her right. Ultimately she goes too far, but for all that, Kathryn is trying to redress an imbalance in society and rise above the role decreed for her, and there is, to me at least, something almost admirable in that attack on double standards.

Scooby-Doo (2002)

In Buffy they were always referring to themselves as the Scooby gang, so when they decided to make a live action film of the famous cartoon series I guess some Hollywood big shot thought it would be a great idea to cast SMG as Daphne.

He was right.

This is a surprisingly silly movie, but also rather fun and if you’re at all familiar with the Scooby-Doo cartoon then I guess you know what you’re getting on the way in. Two years after a somewhat acrimonious break up, the Scooby gang find themselves individually lured to Spooky Island holiday resort, where strange things are going on. Under the auspices of a gurning Rowan Atkinson demonic entities from another dimension are possessing the bodies of young holidaymakers, but to accelerate this end of the world scenario the sacrifice of a pure soul is required. Now I wonder who that could be. At first competing, the Scoobies discover that when confronted with a genuine supernatural menace they have to work together, and that’s when things really start to snap, crackle and pop.

The characters are all finely drawn, from brain box Velma (Linda Cardellini) through to ‘food stoner’ Shaggy (Matthew Lillard), with glamour boy and opportunist Fred (Freddie Prinz Jr.) and, of course, SMG herself as Daphne, who is so tired of being the one who has to be rescued that she learns martial arts and becomes the one who does the rescuing. The only disappointment is Scooby himself, whose mannerisms get a little irritating (actually, that’s true of Shaggy also), and isn’t quite as funny or lovable as he’s supposed to be, even if we do get a saccharine note on the benefits of friendship at the end. But then with a CGI dog the film’s makers were always on a hiding to nothing as far as Scooby was concerned, and don’t get me started on evil nemesis Scrappy-Doo. I’m probably being too pernickety here. This film wasn’t intended as Oscar material, just family entertainment, and on that level I would have to say it works rather more than not.

As a side issue, the bits where the demons catch sunlight and explode put me in mind of Blade while the idea of demonic entities taking over human bodies to exist on our plane was put to good use by Brian Keene in the series of novels beginning with The Rising, though in his books they occupied corpses rather than rambunctious teenagers (same difference, some might opine).

SMG played her part to perfection, as did the other cast members, though I have to concede that the roles didn’t ask that much of them, and she also came over as somewhat more sexy than she did in Cruel Intentions when she was trying to be sexy. More is less, or something like that.

I’m happy to report that, as posited above, she didn’t die in either movie. Quite enough of that in Buffy, thank you very much.

One day I must revisit I Know What You Did Last Summer. She dies in that one. All the same, it’s my favourite SMG movie.

What’s yours?

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4 Responses to Sunday Night with Added SMG

  1. Can’t say that I really have a favorite SMG movie—she’s good in everything I remember seeing her in, but for whatever reason (probably my own deficiency), she’s never really stood out to me the way some other actors and actresses have. You mentioned Buffy. Every once in a while I’ll read a compilation someone’s done of the “Best TV shows of all time”, and usually on the list, along with Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, etc. there’ll be Buffy. On that basis Mary and I rented some discs from the first season, and although it was good, it didn’t really seem that outstanding. Still, it is on most lists, and I heard since that it’s later in the first season that it gets really good. Pete, I assume you’ve seen the series? Is it worth sticking with? We’d love to find another series to watch.

    (BTW, Dangerous Liaisons was I believe the first adult novel I ever read, “adult” meaning “non-kid” novel. Still have a warm spot for it.)

    • petertennant says:

      Yeah, agree with much of that Rob. SMG is a decent leading actress, rather than superstar A-List material. You enjoy the movies she’s in, but for most of us her presence in itself isn’t a reason to see the movie.

      “Buffy” got off to a slow start with that short first series and the cartoonish vampire king as the ‘big bad’, though I must admit I did like it very much, even then. The second series with the evil mayor stepped things up a lot, and from then on there was no looking back (well, except for Adam and the Initiative, which all seemed a bit naff to me). I liked the blend of wit and action, the fact that they also touched on serious themes and with no guarantees that anyone would get out unhurt.

      I haven’t read “Dangerous Liaisons”, though I do remember reading somewhere that De Sade met Laclos and wasn’t impressed with him – possibly a case of alpha mule-itis.

  2. I think The Grudge, and then Southland Tales. She was badly miscast in the latter, but it was an interesting film. I quite like the two Scooby Doo films, and even the two they’ve done with other actors are okay.

    Her recent tv series Ringer would have made a good mini-series, but ran out of steam after the first batch of episodes.

    • petertennant says:

      I liked “The Grudge”, but would have probably enjoyed it a whole lot more if I hadn’t been familiar with the original version. And yeah, I know people say the remake actually makes more sense, but I didn’t find it anywhere near as creepy as “Juon”.

      I haven’t seen “Southland Tales” – saw a copy in Poundland a while back, but for some reason didn’t pick it up and have been wishing I did ever since. There’ll be other opportunities no doubt.

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