Worth A Look: 17.14%
Just Average: 16.19%
Pretty Crappy: 18.1%
8 reviews, 57 user ratings
|Rules of Attraction, The
by Erik Childress
Why does the film ratings debate always appear back in the news when they’ve slapped a mediocre film with an “NC-17”? Good or great films that get the blaspheme treatment from the anonymous men and women plucked from the street of the MPAA take it on the chin, make a couple changes to appease those who get upset with one too many “F” words, sexual references or exploding heads and they go on with their day. It’s invariably a director with an inferior product where the hyped shock value is greater than John Nash getting his daily treatment in Old Sparky. I was fortunate enough to see an uncut print of The Rules of Attraction, complete with a preface from our local PR of the changes that were going to be made to achieve the “R” rating. The biggest problem with Roger Avary’s uproar against the MPAA is that, even in all its director’s cut glory, he’s made a film that’s barely shocking, barely interesting and most of all, barely anything.Describing the film, I turn to and ask legendary actor Peter Falk to once again visit Fred Savage in his bedroom to read him a bedtime tale. Only fast forward 15 years where Savage is stuck doing a pointless one-scene cameo as a drugged-out college student who lies around displaying the bulge in…Peter, help me out here.
"Barely Shocking. Barely Interesting. Barely Anything."
PETER: “When I was a boy, television was called books. And here’s one that my father read to me when I was a boy and I used to read it to your father. Now, I’m going to read it to you. It’s called The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis. You liked that American Psycho book by him that I read you.”
FRED: “Yeah, grandpa, but that had all kinds of gross murders and blood.”
PETER: “What are you saying?”
FRED: “Is this a kissing book?”
PETER: “Are you kidding? Kissing, sucking, Drugs, alcohol, rape, virgins, suicide, homosexuals, gangbangs, vomit, crap, severe beatings…true love…masturbation.”
FRED: “It doesn’t sound too bad. Let me smoke this bong and I’ll try to stay awake.”
In a college Cliffs Notes kinda way, that’s about the jist of Ellis’ story. It consists of a number of spoiled college kids dumped on the doorsteps of a far-away school to partake in all sorts of debauchery while class is an afterthought (in all meanings of the word.) Narrow the roster down to three main characters and you get their introduction at The End of the World Party. There’s anti-hero Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek) downing a bottle of Jack Daniels with fresh bruises looking for his female prey of the evening. Lauren Hynde (Shannyn Sossamon) is the virginal victim of the piece, saving herself for the one true love of her life (a choice of two guys for her.) And Paul Denton (Ian Somerhalder) is the aggressive homosexual who comes off willing to hit on any good-looking guy; sexual preference optional.
FRED: “Hold it, hold it. They’re kissing again.”
PETER: “Someday you may not mind so much.”
FRED: “I’m not GAY! Those are guys kissing in there.”
PETER: “Do you want me to continue with this?”
See, Sean likes Lauren, Paul likes Sean and Lauren likes Sean too, but still has designs on her steady boyfriend, Victor (Kip Pardue) who is vacationing in Europe. But why does anyone like Sean? He’s rude, narcissistic and deals drugs on the side for Rupert (Clifton Collins, Jr.) to whom he owes a great deal of cash. Fractured love triangle as it is with other triangles intersecting with it, director Avary spends more time into tricking us with a never-ending use of camera artifices than putting something on the screen than makes us feel…anything.
The introduction of the three leads is filtered through a constant rewinding of the party scene that is stylistically very interesting, but goes on way too long past its potential impact. Another sequence out of left, right and center field later in the picture shows us Victor’s European vacation, speeded up so we see several weeks in a few minutes. Sounds and looks cool, but after about 90 seconds it becomes tiresome to the point of agonization.
FRED: “Sometimes a minute will last like an hour.”
PETER: “Yes, you’re very smart. Shut up.”
Which is exactly what I felt and wanted to say to Avary during many of these sequences. The one bravura sequence that he does pull off consists of Sean and Lauren’s first meeting when a split screen follows each character during a morning walk, until they stare right at us and the two halves become one with the characters finally standing face-to-face. This audience point-of-view participation then gets decimated later when the viewer becomes somewhat implicated in the suicide of one character. Any savvy audience member will recognize and understand who the character is, but we’re treated to flashbacks of earlier scenes where this minor force in Ellis’ universe is in the background, unnoticed as the main characters drift past them. Avary should be made aware that his audience is watching what he puts in front of us. His camera follows Sean, Lauren, Paul and other characters throughout, so don’t blame us pal for ignoring the victim. If you wanted to make us care, you could have followed her a little more often instead of the unpleasant cast of characters.
Which is not to say that the cast members aren’t good. Several of them, like Van Der Beek, give sharp on-the-money performances saving themselves from the pretentious unemotional cataclysm of the story and nailing scenes that depend on droll irony. Pardue, normally a vacuous pretty boy, really has some fun with his selfish Victor character, particularly in a very funny diner scene and Collins snorts up the scenery as the hyperangry drug pusher. Russell Sams bursts into and just as quickly out of the story as Paul’s gay friend, Richard, in New York who insists on being called “Dick” and then proceeds to live up to his name, doing a Robert Downey Jr. characterization and embarrassing their pill-poppin’ societal mommies (Swoosie Kurtz & Faye Dunaway.)
As I discussed the film afterwards with a colleague, we discerned that if you jerk off enough, eventually you’ll hit a few targets. Avary tries to set the pud-pulling world record and occasionally hits the dartboard, but not the bullseye. His koyaanisqatsi backward-motif is all too evident throughout (I get it, Roger) but the narrative is too muddled and characters’ motivations become random and unsubstantial. Take the scene where Lauren finally gets to see Victor after he’s arrived back on campus. Is he doped up? Blatantly blowing her off? Or is their entire relationship just an illusion in Lauren’s drugged-up philosophized existence?
If the point was to shock us with the young Americans engaging in anti-philanthropic behavior, then he failed miserably. All the sex scenes conspire towards shots of people’s heads going back-and-forth and up-and-down and not over other people’s heads. Jessica Biel continues to display her own angst for not being cast in American Beauty, sticking it to her goody-goody WB show 7th Heaven by playing Lauren’s roommate, the coke-snorting, sex-crazed megabitch Lara Holleran, but are we really surprised? I give Biel her next three projects to finally take it all off.Bret Easton Ellis has made a career out of the disenfranchised youth and a disturbing trend that suggests some deep-seeded issues with women. They’ve been torn to pieces physically in American Psycho and emotionally in The Rules of Attraction. Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner knew exactly what to do with Psycho’s Patrick Bateman (the older brother to Sean), using Ellis’ material as a streamline for materialism, the male ego and potentially closeted homosexuality. Avary has no clue. Is it about the death of love; an anti-romantic black comedy where the declaration of love bypasses the courting stage in the hopes of bottomed-out spiritual redemption? Or maybe its just one big cinematic jerkoff fantasizing about something more than it actually is.
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originally posted: 10/11/02 03:16:24