Netflix’s modern retelling of Dangerous Liaisons is all style and offers little substance to explain their menacing actions.
This review of Dangerous Liaisons (2022) on Netflix is spoiler-free.
Dangerous Liaisons (2022) is a modern retelling of the18th-century French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. Yes, the retelling is in high school, which draws striking similarities and a vibe with Cruel Intentions. There is a simple explanation for that. That film was an adaptation of de Laclos’ work or had more to do with Stephen Frears’ addictive 1999 film. The simple fact is playwrights and studio heads have been remaking this work for almost 233 years. Of course, we all know we now live in a world of TikTok and Instagram. The story never hit its target audience until social media was born.
Director Rachel Suissa, who co-wrote the script with scribe Slimane-Baptiste Berhoun, attempts to keep the story’s signature themes — such as manipulation, revenge, guilt, ethics, and society and class — intact. You may find the script replaces the importance of religion with aspects of mental health. For instance, Celene (played by French actor and social media sensation Paolo Locatelli) arrives in the elegant seaside town of south France, Biarritz. She meets Tristan (Simon Rerolle), who saves her dog. He seems like a nice guy. So much so that she unveils that her mother died, and her father suffers from crippling depression. As she gets to know him, she is perplexed by him. He cannot decide if he is a nice guy trying to act like a jerk, or a jerk who is trying to act like a nice guy.
What it seems like is Tristan has the potential to be a good guy but is caught in childish, immature games. You know how rich kids with too much freedom and time on their hands are. Will they begin to stretch the belief of their right to manipulate as some superpower? You got that right since Vanessa is still licking her wounds. Why? She loses a bet to Tristan over not being able to sleep with a school principal. She lost her car to Tristan, poor thing. To challenge him, Vanessa bets Tristan that he cannot sleep with the newly arrived and pure Celene. If he can’t, she gets the beach house.
These two are obsessed with what they cannot have. And the allure of Vanessa creating imperfections on a virtuous, virginal newcomer is what she lives for. Tristan needs to acquire things he cannot have. A challenge, if you will, since Celene is engaged at 17 years of age to her fiancé, Pierre, who is overseas. You may argue she brought it upon herself — who brings a classic novel to a rich kid’s pool party where sex is the appetizer?
A part of me admired the adaptation here — particularly with themes of influencers creating some very entertaining and comedic moments. (When the two lovebirds meet, Tristan saved her pooch because a mindless teen is directly talking on her phone while driving to upload what I can only assume is an Instagram story). Also, its use of explaining the hierarchy of social acceptance with the number of followers someone has is clever. The story set in France, in a world of social media darlings living inside their cruel limitless bubble, is a natural way to tell a story of teenagers who either have no conscience or have discovered they may have one.
Of course, the movie is beautiful to look at. There are lovely women and handsome guys, and you cannot find much better places to film a movie with its southern France seaside views. However, the acting here ranges from laidback to over-the-top nonsense. Mainly, Rerolle’s Tristan never ultimately manages any emotional range. While Heloise Janjaud, who plays Celene’s cousin Charlotte, is too manic obsessive to genuinely enjoy or propel this updated version of Dangerous Liaisons into a worthy guilty pleasure. The script also uses the old crutch of explaining how it is so smart to point out its own exposition and using the setting of making art, like a musical production, is everything someone can relate to express emotions.
And that’s the problem with shows and movies that try to translate this work into modern-day times. Rarely is anyone as pure and virtuous as Celene, and none are nasty as all the villains. Hell, I’m sure The Girl From Plainview, at some point, felt terrible about her inherent moments of evil. These teenagers are socializing and learning how their actions affect others. Here, a few characters are three-dimensional or offer redeeming characteristics.
This modern retelling of Dangerous Liaisons is all style and offers no substance to explain their menacing actions. This is nothing more than a social media update of Cruel Intentions rather than the classic source material.