|The Rules of Attraction
2002 - R - 110 Mins.
|Director: Roger Avary
|Producer: Greg Shapiro
|Written By: Roger Avary
|Starring: James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Ian Somerhalder, Kate Bosworth and Jessica Biel
|Review by: Bill King
Mostly extreme but with a hint of sadness, "The Rules of Attraction" is a film that nearly falls flat with pretension but is saved by a wild visual style and a smooth narrative. Making a film about irredeemable characters is a tricky thing. I would not want to meet many of the characters in this film. Some are just plain annoying. Others are drug-addicted fiends who attract people just like them. As such, there's barely a chance to identify with anyone here, yet there is undeniable skill behind the camera, and there are several scenes that make the film worth seeing.
"The Rules of Attraction" takes place on Camden College, which resembles a Summer camp from your typical slasher film, in that it attracts low-life perverts, troublemakers, drug abusers and delinquents. Here, an education is more of a hindrance than an opportunity. Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek) is the co-narrator and pusher of mind-altering substances. He describes himself as an emotional vampire. He preys on the weak to satisfy his greedy urges. Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon) is probably the most normal character in the movie, which isn't saying much because she's determined to lose her virginity to Victor (Kip Pardue), who spends most of the movie on a European trip (condensed to only a few minutes in one hilarious scene). Paul (Ian Somerhalder) is a gay student who has his eye on Sean.
Much of the movie consists of over-the-top episodes in which these characters and others interact and socialize, usually amidst parties focused on promiscuity and drinking beer. There is so much depravity that one wonders how these characters were interested in college in the first place.
Roger Avary, best known for co-writing "Pulp Fiction," offers no apologies for his excesses. His assortment of characters is sleazy, that's for sure, but he makes the film interesting by giving it its own unique look. The story begins at the end, then literally rewinds to a time earlier in the year, to see how we arrive at the beginning (or end) again. He uses a variety of editing techniques, such as tilted camera angles and quick cuts, to tell his story. If not for this method, "The Rules of Attraction" wouldn't have been very interesting. The fast-paced nature of the storytelling makes the film much more worthwhile. That's fortunate, since Sean is such a nasty individual that telling this movie straight would have been disastrous.
In a movie filled with activity, there's one sequence that nearly brings everything to a halt. The pain of a broken heart is too much for one girl to handle. She has expressed her feelings in a seemingly innocent manner, but when she feels rejection, she commits what has got to be the most painful suicide I've ever witnessed in a movie. It is so sad and so difficult to watch that I wish Avary could have constructed a way for the scene to impact everything surrounding it, or perhaps humanized the characters more. Instead, the scene ends up existing for itself.
"The Rules of Attraction" has a crazed energy level and is visually compelling, but suffers a little because it wallows in its cesspool of destructive behavior. (I didn't care for one scene in a restaurant featuring a rude diner named Dick.) Roger Avary has definite screenwriting skill, but I think in this film he got too carried away with how far the decadence should go. It's almost as if he's trying to associate himself with Harmony Korine and Gregg Araki. Despite that, "The Rules of Attraction" deserves merit for its good qualities.