Hear Me Out: Wild Things Is Surprisingly Feminist
When you think of the 1998 cult favorite Wild Things, you probably think: boobs. Big boobs. Smaller boobs. Boobs under a wet T-shirt. Boobs under a dry T-shirt. Boobs coming out of a pool. Well, guess what? You’re also thinking of a modern feminist masterpiece! No, I’m (sort of) not kidding. It might be hard to recollect because it came out 18 years ago (yes, as of today the movie is officially legal!)—but upon review, Wild Things is about so much more than the previously mentioned mammaries. It’s the premiere feminist film of our time (in my opinion), and here’s why…
Warning: some spoilers!
First up, in case you’ve never seen the film and are for some reason still reading this, let me sum up the plot for you: Wild Things revolves around a sex scandal in a small town in Florida between two high school girls (Denise Richards and Neve Campbell) who accuse their guidance counselor (Matt Dillon) of rape. Two cops (Kevin Bacon and Daphne Rubin-Vega) are assigned to the case and soon find out that not all is as it seems.
Now, right off the bat you might be thinking, sex crimes? This is not the feminist movie for me. But unlike much popular entertainment today, the crime in question is not seen and serves as a major plot point—not some lame device meant to titillate (cough Game of Thrones cough).
A huge problem with female characters in movies are that they are often flat—they portray women as “nagging wives,” “supportive girlfriends,” or “dead hookers” and that’s about it. Their sole purpose is to support the guy. But in Wild Things, the female characters are not only multidimensional, but head-spinningly so. Spoiled Floridian princess Kelly (Denise Richards) and drug-addled swamp priestess Suzie (Neve Campbell) are two of the most well-rounded, fascinating, and exciting characters to ever grace the screen. They’re smart, conniving, dark, layered, and riotously funny. They fight, they love, they have sex, they scheme—often with each other—and they love every second of it. These women have agency and points of view—how many times can you say that about a woman in a Marvel movie?
Hilariously, the men in Wild Things are the exact opposite. Every man in Wild Things is an inept patsy who can’t get ahead of the game. The men sit by while the women play them like fiddles. Sure, the guys provide some laughs (Bill Murray plays a supporting role, so how could he not?) and some eye candy, but that’s about it.
Speaking of eye candy, yes Wild Things certainly, uh, celebrates the female form. But it equally glorifies the male form! Denise Richards may go topless, but delightfully, Kevin Bacon bares all too. The camera ogles Matt Dillon’s tight chest just as much as Neve Campbell’s. When the gaze is widened from male to everybody’s, then everybody wins.
Which brings me to my next point: The sexual politics in Wild Things were ahead of their time. All of the female characters enjoy sex, demand it, and want actual pleasure, not some gross middle-aged loser pumping them from behind. The attractiveness gap is simply non-existent in Wild Things. Kevin Bacon and Matt Dillon didn’t show up to this shoot with some JV-league dadbod situation. These guys got cut. They were probably doing push-ups in between takes. And fellas? We appreciate it.
So next time you’re in need of a hot, deliciously evil movie to watch, don’t be afraid to get Wild Things. It’s Gloria Steinem-approved (probably, I can’t be totally sure).