Christina Wayne’s film Tart (2001) followed the trend of youth marketed films that looked to emulate Roger Kumble’s Cruel Intentions (1999). While none of these films matched the wit or stylization of Cruel Intentions, Tart at least attempts something slightly different. Tart embraces the cultural milieu and general sensibility of Cruel Intentions but adds a dash of Larry Clark to the proceedings with the resulting effect of taking a coming of age narrative and turning it into a lurid, pulp influenced exposé.
Christina Wayne turns away from a more overt visual stylization in preference for a character study more firmly rooted in reality. Tart follows seventeen year old Cat Storm (Dominique Swain) as she navigates eleventh grade. Cat’s journey entails parties, drugs, rakish boys, and anti-semitism all on the way to discovering that it’s “better to be a freak” than to be “normal”. It’s an obvious lesson that’s common in these types of films except that, in the last act, the boy who has tempted Cat to be normal turns out to be a male prostitute, a thief and a murderer. It is in this fashion that Tart could be categorized as the exploitation film knock-off of Cruel Intentions.
Although the synthesis of Cruel Intentions and Larry Clark’s Bully (2001) provides enough superficial interest to sustain Tart, it is Christina Wayne’s moral and political position in relation to the material that is the most compelling aspect of the film. Cat, although clearly a victim of deception and prejudice, never forsakes her agency, autonomy, nor her will to be true to herself. Tart defies many of the conventions of its genre via this depiction of teenage girlhood. The fact that Tart strays into the murky waters of the crime film only enables Christina Wayne to better dramatize Cat’s strength and resilience as a character.
From a feminist point of view Cat subverts the general role of the heroine within the youth film genre. As narrative circumstances against her become gradually more extreme and violently exaggerated Cat’s role becomes one of advocacy via her endurance. Tart is a film that exemplifies the strength of the female spirit while also suggesting that female characters in such films need not limit themselves to playing victims or sex objects.
The male gaze that so often fetishizes adolescent girls tends to dominate films aimed at teens so whenever a film like Tart or Foxfire (1996) comes along it is well worth seeing. Yes, much of Tart is cliche but that doesn’t mean that Christina Wayne’s film fails to be affecting. Tart deserves to be seen and re-evaluated as one of those key coming of age films about women made in the late 1990s and early 2000s.