The Shape Of Things

on May 09, 2003 by Annlee Ellingson
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After the diversions “Nurse Betty” and “Possession,” writer/director Neil LaBute revisits the unsettling cynicism of his first two battle-of-the-sexes outings, “In the Company of Men” and “Your Friends and Neighbors.” In “The Shape of Things,” an adaptation of LaBute's stage play, Rachel Weisz, who also produces, stars as Evelyn, an art student who, in the opening scene of the film, is determined to correct what she deems “false art”--i.e., a strategically placed fig leaf on a sculpture--with a can of spray paint. Adam (Paul Rudd)--the name surely a calculated choice--is the security guard on duty at the time but he's no match for her spirited indifference to authority. Predictably, he asks her out.

What follows is a sweet but, at its core, authentic courtship peppered with cultural references that, realistically, sometimes have to be explained and insecurities that have to be assuaged. Nerdy Adam--overweight, bespectacled and never without his professor-esque corduroy jacket--has a hard time understanding why smart, sexy, stylish Evelyn likes him, and readily responds to her gentle suggestions to get contacts, stop biting his nails and consider plastic surgery. Rudd's performance is a fearless one--he's not afraid to be goofy or dorky. Meanwhile, the role of Evelyn is a bold one and thus particularly attractive for an actress looking for challenging work. Weisz relishes it, and the audience loves her--then ultimately hates her--for it.

Trouble in the relationship arises when Evelyn meets Adam's old friends, Jenny (Gretchen Mol), with whom he shares unconsummated feelings, and Phillip (Fred Weller, doing his best Jack Nicholson impression), a conservative with whom feminist Evelyn immediately clashes. In these relationships, too, there is a real sense of genuineness: In an encounter between Adam and Jenny at a park, the otherwise visually unexciting conversation filled in with bits of business such as playing on slides and rocking horses, there is a palpable chemistry between Rudd and Mol. However, it becomes clear that Adam will have to decide between his new life with Evelyn and his previous one.

Unfortunately for Adam, all is not at seems, though, and it has something to do with Evelyn's mysterious master's thesis on which she has been working. The climactic scene, in which all--“the illusion of interest and desire” and “there is only art”--is revealed in a bit prolonged (likely intentionally so) monologue that is squirmingly painful to watch. And yet, because one wants to look away, to turn it off, the development and the execution of it are brilliant because, at the same time, one can't. Starring Paul Rudd, Rachel Weisz, Gretchen Mol and Fred Weller. Directed and written by Neil LaBute. Produced by Neil LaBute, Gail Mutrux, Philip Steuer and Rachel Weisz. A Focus release. Drama. Rated R for language and some sexuality. Running time: 97 min.

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