The Shape of Things Neil LaBute
Published May 01, 2003Neil LaBute's films often feel like experiments rather than stories; he questions the moral content and ambiguity of relationships, the implications of minor infractions and large deceits. No one is innocent when it comes to personal power struggles. Basically, a group of friends are about to treat each other like shit. The Shape of Things is only partially successful as a film but it does work as a LaBute experiment; it leaves you feeling slimed but intrigued.
Shy, dumpy English major Adam (Paul Rudd) falls for art student Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), who quickly sets about altering our hero into a more palatable boyfriend. As Adam transforms loses weight, gains some self-confidence into a new man, his friends, Phillip (Fred Weller) and his fiancée Jenny (Gretchen Mol), change as well. At first they merely react to the new Adam, but it doesn't take long for their relationship to suffer. These characters aren't fleshed out they are stereotypes: the college co-ed, the academic, the frat boy, the art student. The truth is hidden in the story somewhere but (as Evelyn points out several times) no one wants to see the "real thing." The Shape of Things was originally produced as a play and it still feels like one the actors read their lines theatre-style, as if they were projecting to the back row. The scenes have very simple blocking and as they dissolve from one to the next you can practically see lights raising and falling on stage. It's reminiscent of Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago caustically funny and painful to watch.
Evelyn is a pretty despicable character and it would be difficult for any actor to portray her sympathetically but Weisz's performance ensures we're just as likely to laugh at her. While Rudd and Mol are suitably charming and compassionate, Weisz is stiff and curt. Evelyn's "graduate thesis art project," the alteration of another human being, is the core of The Shape of Things. Unfortunately, Weisz's attempts at rounded American vowels are distracting and it's hard to take her seriously. She is, however, cute and that might just be LaBute's point. We are meant to ask ourselves if we are more attracted to the shape of things than the contents held within. (Alliance Atlantis)