the shape of things (2003)


director: neil labute

paul rudd, rachel weisz, gretchen mol

Itís possible to make it through a Neil LaBute film - not even his fans will admit that youíll enjoy it - if you forget about the characters representing any sort of person youíll ever meet in real life.

LaButeís films - The Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors - are machines, great merciless mechanisms meant to grind his characters down to a powdery essence, defined by some basic human flaw - greed, spite, ambition, appetite or naivete. Looking back over the wreckage, youíll see that moment at the beginning when the purpose of the film was plain as day, though you might have missed it, assuming or hoping that the director had even a trace of affection for the poor saps he sent marching to their destruction.

The Shape of Things begins and ends in an art gallery, with two people - the pretty, purposeful Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) and the hapless Adam (Paul Rudd) - confronting each other. At the end, itís as hard to like Evelyn as it was at the start, when she stood in front of a sculpture with a can of spray paint, telling Adam that she intended to graffiti it as a form of artistic expression. By the end of the film, sheís done a far more drastic makeover on Adam, who has become the sculpture, without about as much of a protest as a piece of stone.

If this sounds profound, then you might enjoy LaButeís film; if this seems like the sort of dramatic exercise that would creak in a graduate workshop, you might still want to see the film for the sparks it manages to throw off. LaButeís films arenít easily dismissible - heís one of the few directors today patently concerned with morality, though itís hard to tell if he thinks itís a good thing.

Since Rudd plays Adam as a boy, unformed and eager to please, the tension is mostly provided by Evelynís interaction with his friends, sweet, nurturing Jenny (Gretchen Mol) and the arrogant Philip (Frederick Weller), engaged but clearly mismatched, and doomed not to survive their encounter with Adamís mercurial new girlfriend.

It would have been nice to see either of them put up a bit more of a fight, especially Molís Jenny, who represents the only unmistakably virtuous character in the film, but LaButeís eye is always on the relentless Evelyn. In the end, LaBute canít resist the urge to give the devil the best lines.