Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Rules of Attraction (Roger Avary, 2002)

A relaxed collection of astonishing moments that are barely held together by a film that, on the surface, appears to be an overly stylish mishmash of pointless camera tricks and crude dialogue. And, not to mention, an opportunity for attractive television stars to be able to cynically tell their sycophantic friends that they're edgy and stuff. But when watched an inordinate amount of times, The Rules of Attraction is probably, when all is said and done, the best movie of the decade. One of the few films to fully comprehend the power of light-coloured fonts and the undeniable allure of Yazoo, the Roger Avary directed adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel about a bunch of horny, drug-addicted, self-absorbed college students is a triumph of gaudy excess. The mind-numbingly weather-beaten premise is somehow injected with a real sense of purpose by the backwards-obsessed filmmaker, as comedy and tragedy flirt dangerously close with one another on a regular basis. I mean, one second you're recoiling in horror, and the next you're laughing like a diseased clown. There's a definite unease that comes with this stylistic coalescence (watching someone get raped and vomited on by a townie has been known to do that). However, the film is executed in such an exaggerated manner, that it's hard to take it too seriously. The fact that James Van Der Beek, his impenetrable skull no doubt full of images of architectural splendour and Katie Holmes' meticulously trimmed shrubbery, gets to make not one, but two orgasm faces, was the moment I decided to stop being so judgmental, and began to allow the film to, as Mr. V.D. Beek's Sean Bateman might say, "wash over me." Well, except for Clifton Collins Jr. and his overuse of the word "motherfucker." I can't wash with that kind of vulgarity. But everything else was as smooth as defective gravy.

The film is essentially about four college age assholes and their various romantic desires. Introduced in an extremely clever fashion, the characters unveil themselves at the film's end, which is at the beginning (yeah, it's one of those). All the same, the decision to run it in reverse was a mildly bold stroke. Technically, it was unnecessary, but I thought it added a self-indulgent flavour to an already overblown enterprise. Anyway, these four characters provide the glue that holds this shambling excuse for a film together long enough in order to wow us with a series of awe-inspiring individual scenes.

Erupting onto the screen like an oversexed vigilante, The Rules of Attraction is basically stolen out from under the rest of the cast by the not-so elegant Russell Sams. A sunglasses sporting, leather jacket wearing miscreant, who seems to have been summed from the depths of some awesome swamp to fight against the inherent lameness of others, Russell Sams destroys all those who dare stand against him as Dick, the drunk friend of Ian Somerhalder's Paul (one of the four assholes). Displaying an alarming disregard for cultured society, Russell is electrifying during the scene at a fancy upscale eatery.

Trading dialogue with the always sexy Swoosie Kurtz, Sams' bizarre mannerisms, seemingly indifferent attitude towards proper dining etiquette (he's giving Paul's crotch a massage with his foot as he trades barbs with his mother), and over pronunciation of the word "cock," make Dick a character for the ages. In fact, he's so good, that you find yourself forgetting that screen legend Faye Dunaway is sitting at the same table.

Swapping comedy for tragedy, another standout scene is the one that involves a bathtub. This sequence is so heart wrenching, so uncompromising, that it's hard for me to even describe it (and I love describing things, especially unpleasant things). What I will say is that Theresa Wayman's performance is downright breathtaking as "Food Service Girl." And not just in this particular scene, either. Her presence is felt throughout the entire movie, as she is able to convey a real sense of longing without saying a single word. Sure, you may not notice her the first time around, but believe me, you will the second, the third, the fourth...

The film's only romantic moment, strangely enough, involves its two stars. Tired of being overshadowed by unknowns and upstaged by Jessica Biel's first-rate organic structure, James Van Der Beek and Shannyn Sossamon obviously demanded that they be put in a great scene. Set to the hippie-friendly strains of "Colours" by Donovan, this excellent sequence basically involves James and Shannyn waking up and going to class. However, it's the way the sequence is shot that makes so special. As it features one of the most ingenious uses of split-screen I have ever seen. In addition to being technically sound, the sequence also boasts some terrific acting on the part of Miss Sossamon. Her laugh is infectious and I found her homemade haircut to be an erratic delight.

Putting an exclamation point on the whole film was Victor's summery of his European adventure. Unseen for most of the film, Victor (Kip Pardue) is a major asshole, yet the retelling of his time abroad had a breakneck ferocity about it that was strangely compelling. You know, as far as drug-fueled sex romps across Europe go.

In closing, The Rules of Attraction is four brilliant scenes surrounded by one pretty solid film. One that, get this, features Aurora Snow and Paul Williams.



  1. ...and Eric Stoltz and hummers and Fred Savage and a clarinet...and music by there nothing this movie doesn't have?! that a double negative?

  2. I really enjoyed this movie. It had great music too. I love the book it was based on. Very cool all around. Great writeup on this movie. Now I wanna watch it again.

  3. Mr. Canacorn: I'm not sure. But you're right. Fred Savage repeatedly boasting that he can feel his dick and Eric Stoltz' "Shannyn Sossamon has just begun to massage my penis with her mouth" face were definite highlights.

    Oh, and yeah, I loved the tomandandy music score.

    Keith: Thanks for the compliment, Keith. I'm glad I was to instill the desire to view this underrated little gem of a movie.

  4. Totally agreed with this review. I cannot believe that I enjoyed a movie as much as this one about so many assholes!

    I could have lived without the scenes involving the drug dealer stuff, but the rest... Good fun!

    And any film that can use a Cure song and a Donovan song so well, is obviously genius.

  5. I agree that this movie gets better with every watching - it is romantic and uncomfotable all at the same time. Roger Avery elevates Ellis' "art" and created something better than the latter could ever envision.