The Shape of Things (2003) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language and sexual situations
Running Time: 96 min.
Cast: Paul Rudd, Rachel Weisz, Frederick Weller, Gretchen Mol
Director: Neil LaBute
Screenplay: Neil LaBute
The Shape of Things is one of those films that you appreciate more after it's over than when you're actually watching it. It's an unsettling work, typical of LaBute (In the Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors), with a very sour look at the relationships between the sexes and shades of sadism all around. If you're with someone when watching the film, especially if you're on a date, get ready to spend the rest of the evening arguing over the themes and dramatic elements of the film, as they will stay with you all night, and possible for days afterward. Hopefully, your evening isn't ruined by your significant other taking the opposite side of the argument.
The story revolves around Adam. a socially-inept nerd (Rudd) who one day while working his side job as a museum security guard meets the non-conformist Evelyn, just as she's about to deface a museum sculpture. The meeting is awkward, but there is some interest between the two, and soon a relationship is started. Although Adam wonders what Evelyn could possibly see in him, things proceed nicely, with Evelyn making little changes to Adam to improve his looks, such as getting him to lose weight, cut his unkempt hair, and stop biting his fingernails. Complications begin to emerge when Evelyn meets Adam's engaged friends, Jenny and Phillip, and the little improvements in Adam's appearance rekindles attraction in Jenny, while Phillip becomes more upset that the predictable pain-in-the-ass friend has now become changed by his new girlfriend to the point he doesn't recognize him much anymore.
The Shape of Things was originally a play by LaBute, which also starred the main players in the movie. Like many plays that try to adapt to the big screen, there is a stiffness factor that settles in to most scenes of the film, and what might work in the knowing artifice of the stage becomes strange when played out in the "real world." Also, the characters are just not very realistic, and their resulting conversations and interactions with each other come off as forced and manipulative, mere playthings for LaBute to toy with in order to achieve some thematic truths for the audience.
However, as artificial as the characters and situations sometimes are, there is too much intelligence in the screenplay to not be interesting, and The Shape of Things is a very engaging film despite it all. There is a sourness in the outlook on relationships that not everyone will appreciate, but within it there is a lot of truth. It's not easy to witness the complete building up and destruction of a human being at his most vulnerable point, but LaBute does it with unflinching finesse, and even if the characters themselves are superficial, the points are driven home quite well.
In summation, The Shape of Things is an arty, intellectual endeavor that has its share of flaws but delivers the message it sets out to through crisp, cutting commentary by LaBute. If you're a fan of LaBute, the stars, art films, or just provocative dramas, this one is well worth your time. If the characters and situations didn't play itself out in fantasyland, a great work probably would have emerged from this, but taking it for what it is, I'm content with the result. You may not like it, but it's going to be a while before you get it out of your head, or out from under your skin.
© 2003 Vince Leo