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The Shape of Things

Starring Gretchen Mol, Paul Rudd, Rachel Weisz and Frederick Weller
Written and Directed by Neil LaBute
no website

IN SHORT: Strictly for the Art House. [Rated R for language and some sexuality. 97 minutes]

In a review of one of writer/director Neil LaBute's earlier movies we mentioned that our girlfriend of the time would accompany us to any screening we had, excepting his. Her reason? The perception that, thanks to film's like In The Company Of Men, LaBute was a misogynist. Here, in The Shape of Things LaBute returns to his human bashing mode (as opposed to the magnificent chick flick Possession) only this time with a female doing the bashing on a poor defenseless male. What goes around comes around and The Shape of Things affirms LaBute's place as a god of the art house circuit. Whether you like his films or not, none of 'em drop the ball as far as character development or motives. Whether you or I like where the story he tells goes is, ultimately, up to you slash us. The Shape of Things is yet another well characterized piece, with a twist end that we should have seen coming early on but didn't -- props to LaBute for that -- but the negativity that overrides his work makes the film feel like the same old same old, despite the swap from male to female antagonist.

Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) meets Adam (Paul Rudd) when she is about to deface a work of art in a museum in which he is a part time security guard. Her plan is to paint a penis over the fig leaf adorning a classic full length nude. Adam makes himself scarce while Eve (like we were going to miss that obvious contraction?) does the deed off screen. Thus, a romance is born between two college students, she the Masters Candidate in Art and he the undergrad majoring in English. He is as insecure and intellectual as she is aggressive and looking for a shlub to fashion into her ideal man -- which she'll do as Adam drops twenty pounds and glasses and changes is wardrobe, all at Eve's direction. Thus it is when one is in love. Eve also has a fascination for communist icons which isn't noticed by Adam or explored all too deeply by LaBute. That there is enough of it for us to notice makes us wonder what ended up on the cutting room floor. Onwards...

Eve is the most exciting thing, so to speak, to rock Adam's world, ever. His closest friends Jenny (Gretchen Mol) and Phil (Frederick Weller) watch the improbable relationship develop as all the nerdy gear drops away and a young, handsome, more confident man is unveiled. The changes spark a long repressed feeling within Jenny and, well, sparks will be sparks. The encounter puts Adam into a completely strange place, forcing him to make a choice between his new found Eve or his bestest and oldest friends, whose relationship could be sundered if what was not supposed to happen continues. We're not going to go near what flips the lid in the Third Act, 'cuz that would be spoiling the goods for all you art house fiends. It's an unexpected one, for sure and you've already gotten your full ten spot worth of story ideas by the time the bombshell drops.

If we had never been exposed to Neil LaBute's work before, we may have been wow'ed. But we have and, as we said above, we've seen it before. Changing the antagonist from male to female doesn't change the basics of the experience. We written elsewhere about films whose overall perspective is an unpleasant one. Sure, they have a right to be and, yes, there are some that are magnificent examples of how affecting film can be. All of the latter, at least, offer some subplot or element to make an audience care about what (we) are seeing. Eve's cynicism and Paul's ultimate humiliation (or liberation, if you want to look at it from a different angle) didn't get a rise or reaction out of us or the crowd we sat with. It is the kind of film that, back in our film school days, would have led to long hours sipping heavily caffeinated coffee with Italian names, arguing over the "meaning" of it all. So, for those of you who hail the art house as the be all and end all of fine film, have a fine time.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Shape of Things, he would have paid . . .

$4.00

Everyone else wait for pay per view in a couple of months

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