The Shape of Things Movie Review

Neil LaBute, you're a cruel, cruel man.

After the somewhat senseless Your Friends and Neighbors and the bafflingly bad period piece Possession, LaBute has at last returned to his roots with the kind of story that made In the Company of Men such a kick in the nuts.

Not that it seems that way from the start. At first it looks like LaBute is taking us down the usual boy-meets-girl road, when a pudgy Adam (Paul Rudd) encounters Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) in a museum. LaBute quickly starts with the nuance: She's preparing to deface a statue in a museum because she believes it's "false art." More to the point: She's getting ready to spray-paint a dick on the thing because of her concern over old world censorship, which forced the artist to fashion a fig leaf to cover the phallus.

Soon they're a happy, if unlikely, couple: Evelyn's an arty über-feminist, Adam's an awkward and unsure English major. We're introduced to another mismatched pair, old friends of Adam: Perky blonde Jenny (Gretchen Mol) and über-asshole Philip (Frederick Weller), who are soon to be married in what Philip wants to be an underwater ceremony. It soon becomes clear that Adam and Jenny have lingering feelings for one another, though Adam continues to profess his undying love for Evelyn.

Before you stop reading and dismiss this film entirely, rest assured this isn't some bad Sandra Bullock movie. Something wicked is afoot in the relationship between Adam and Eve that goes beyond that fig leaf (yes, the Genesis metaphor is wholly apropos here). Evelyn is gently encouraging changes in Adam -- some good (lose a little weight, cut your hair), some less so (get a nose job). By the time we get to the gut-punch of a finale, Adam will be a changed man. Trying not to give away too much, I'll say that The Shape of Things is vicious but also very humorous. It's a bitingly dark and a lot of fun, even if you aren't looking for depth this weekend.

But depth it has, without being pretentious. By its finale, Shape presents a real moral predicament. Adam is being manipulated, but if it's (mostly) for the better, is that so wrong? This happens all the time in relationships, and no one ever minds. Evelyn's motivations should be beside the point, right? On the surface, the film's answer is obvious, but this is the kind of movie that makes you wrestle with the puzzle as you reveal another layer of psychoses underneath.

LaBute stages Shape much like the play it is based on (written by LaBute as well), often with only two of the principal actors in a given scene. The dialogue is very "play-like" as well, slightly unreal and meticulously deadpan. And so LaBute invites us to ask whether The Shape of Things is performance art -- something beyond a mere movie -- and that answer is an unqualified yes.

My only real beef with Shape is Weisz, who I adore as an actress but who tragically sheds her British accent for a nasal and badly forced American squeak. I'm not that impressed to believe that the off-key voice is meant to be part of the show. Imagine how much more menacing she would have sounded with her wicked, true accent.

Weisz has too much screen time to put it completely aside, but in the end it's not hard to let it go. The Shape of Things is a film about insecurity, appearances, and the perils of modern relationships. It's vicious and disturbing without resorting to shock tactics like Requiem for a Dream. It's clever and mean satire, but it's also one of those stories where you say, "Hey, that could happen."

Neil, you're a cruel, cruel man. I knew you had it in you.

The shape of mouths.


The Shape of Things Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: R, 2003


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