Upsetting Day: Wuthering High 🌭

In 2015 James Caan did a Lifetime original movie produced by The Asylum called Wuthering High. I found out about this while covering the production of James Caan classic Undercover Grandpa and set it aside, assuming one day I would be in the mood to watch a sexy teen adaptation of a tragic gothic romance. That day never came. It turns out I will never be in the mood to watch James Caan’s Lifetime movie debut. So I sat down this weekend and took it all in anyway. It was different from any of the other Lifetime movies I’ve seen, which usually heavily involve the magic of Christmas.

I can’t help but imagine how disappointing this movie must have been for the younger cast members. I feel like there’s a scenario where they first learned they were going to be in a movie with Academy Award™ nominated actor, James Caan, and then that the movie was going to be on Lifetime. And produced by the makers of Sharknado. That’s like learning you’ve won the lottery, in Guam, where the lottery prizes are all poisonous snakes. Have you ever seen anything this unappealing?

The thing about taking Emily Bronte’s tale of obsession and multigenerational trauma and adapting it to the modern age is it seems really dumb. These kids could be playing XBOX instead of mentally torturing each other. Also, they didn’t have the time or the budget to display the generational aspect of the novel, so the main character Cathy is sort of a combination of two characters in the book, Catherine and her daughter Cathy. Also, instead of Heathcliff and Catherine growing up together, Heath and Cathy meet and fall in love in one day, but they’re so in love he digs up her grave and crawls in with her when she dies a week later. Again, in an era where God Of War requires 51 hours of playtime I just don’t see that happening. 

The movie opens with Cathy lying on the floor of her school, staring up at the ceiling. She explains how she’s never been the same since she found her mother dead of suicide. Now she mostly spends her time drawing pictures of her dead mother and flaming skulls while straddling a notebook on the floor of her high school art room. So haunted. So troubled.

Meanwhile, Heath, the bad boy, comes home from quitting his job by spray painting the words I QUIT onto a mirror and finds his family being deported to Mexico. He’s taken in by Cathy’s wealthy widowed father, who was also his mother’s boss. That’s the role James Caan plays with the energy and enthusiasm of Eeyore on Ambien. I’ve never seen someone look more tired in a movie, which does kind of work for the role. He makes a lot of stupid decisions you can write off as the character needing a nap.

Cathy and Heath immediately hit it off, and we get this weird scene where they have sex in a pantry that is cut with a monologue of Cathy telling Heath how much she misses her mom. We’re supposed to insinuate that they have bonded over their missing parents, which also made them very horny. Ok, sure, that sounds like teenagers, I guess?

Heath shows James Caan some very disturbing pictures Cathy drew of her mother with jewels coming out of a hole in her skull and he says, “Wow, that’s pretty good.” He’s so impressed by her talent and not worried about her at all! He’s so tired. 

Even though Cathy is rich, she doesn’t have a car for some reason, so she’s driven to school by her drug addicted older brother, Lee, in his Porsche. I guess James Caan didn’t want to sell the Porsche and buy two Toyota Hyundais for some reason? Since Lee is constantly drunk or high, he’s not a great chauffeur, and he and Heath have a fight about that, but Heath doesn’t fight back. He lets Lee kick his ass so he’ll get in trouble with their dad. Uh oh, this gothic romance hero might have a dark side.

Cathy and Heath get closer and grow more destructive, but the movie doesn’t know what two out of control teens would do to cause trouble. There’s a weird scene where they get yelled at for talking during health class, and Cathy starts ripping up her textbook while Heath yells, “do it, do it!” Then all the other kids in the class also rip up their books and start dancing around in the pages for some reason.

The movie meets the book at a few intervals, my favorite of which is Cathy being attacked and mauled by a pack of dogs. She’s trying to sneak Heath into a party at her friend’s house he wasn’t invited to, and the friends have a beautiful husky and an Australian cattle dog that each grab a limb and shake her like a polaroid picture.

This mauling is treated as pretty normal and inconsequential for the dogs or Cathy. Cathy’s friend Eddie patches her up, and she goes to his party, freshly mauled and ready to dance. She’s mad at Heath because her friends told him to leave after she got mauled, and he did. Also, he stole a bunch of stuff from her dad’s safe and blamed her brother, who then got sent to rehab. Lots of red flag behavior from this gothic romance hero.

We start to get some botched famous quotes from Wuthering Heights sprinkled into the movie, and it’s extremely obvious when they happen because all of a sudden the dialogue is good. As Cathy and Heath fight at the dog mauling party, Heath grabs Cathy away from Eddie and says, “If he loved you forever with everything he had, he couldn’t love you as much as I do in one day.” The quote from the book is, “If he loved you with all the power of his soul for a lifetime, he couldn’t love you as much as I do in a single day.” I respect that they made it just a little bit worse so it would fit the tone of the movie more. 

At this point, James Caan has made his one million dollars for three scenes, so he promptly exits the movie via heart attack offscreen. Conveniently, he leaves half of his money to Heath and half to Cathy so Lee can also exit the movie forever, which is great for budget reasons. For the last twenty minutes, this movie tosses out actors like it’s Kane in a Royal Rumble, a reference corrected by Sean during the copyediting process after I said “WWE cage match,” a type of wrestling event where you very specifically don’t throw people out.

Then the movie kicks into super speed because this plot is filling time between commercials for yogurt that makes you poop and medication that makes you stop pooping, and they need to fit a book’s worth of events into fifteen minutes. Heath first trashes Cathy’s former home by throwing a huge party at it she’s not invited to. He also starts hooking up with Cathy’s friend Bella and sits on a throne he found in her Cheesecake Factory-style house like he’s the king of the party. 

Then he gets upset when Cathy is mad at him for trashing her childhood home and kissing her friend, so he goes to Mexico to look for his mom but returns the very next scene momless. We never find out what happened there, and it’s never brought up again because compressing a book into a movie is hard, which is probably why The Asylum hasn’t tried this again. When you remove time and nuance from this story, it’s pretty much just hormonal kids doing very dumb and chaotic things. It’s Riverdale but less fun because there are no super powered dogs or organ harvesting cult leaders. One super powered dog could fix this whole movie!

While Heath is gone, Cathy gets together with her friend Eddie, but she’s still in love with Heath, so they have a big dramatic confrontation by the seaside. Now we know Cathy can swim. We’ve seen her play in the ocean, and jump into a pool, but for some reason, as she’s telling Heath she can’t stop loving him, a big wave comes and sweeps her out into the ocean. At least, I think that’s what was supposed to happen; it’s just a single cut to her in the middle of the ocean all of a sudden.

At Cathy’s funeral, we get another line from the original book. “Heath loved Cathy so much. I figure he’ll just want to stretch himself over the grave and die like a faithful dog.” These people have known each other for a week. It can’t have been more than one week in the timeline of this movie. Yet Heath does love Cathy so much that he digs up the grave and crawls into the casket with her, which is how the movie ends. 

I’m not going to lie, that is a pretty hardcore ending. Not quite as impactful as the lingering tragedy of Wuthering Heights, but for a bargain basement version I’m impressed that they even tried to compress crawling into the grave level obsession into an eighty minute movie. Still, it would have been better if they took the money for James Caan and allocated it to making the attack dogs talk and added just a dash of the Christmas spirit.

4 replies on “Upsetting Day: Wuthering High 🌭”

Pale Fire but the first hour is a video for a pop emo epic song and the last 45 minutes is a Talking Dead-type breakdown of its events except it is just one guy and he is very crazy and the fun is to guess whether he is the good kind or the bad kind before the end.

Holy shit, they’d have to invent a whole new award ceremony just to make sure that is the first and only nominee

Toyota Hyundai.
Never log into HotDog before coffee or words like this will confuse you and send you to Google, which will tell you the same thing your brain has been screaming from under the no-coffee pillow.

When I read this book in high school I imagined Heathcliff as the cat and it was much better that way.

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