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The Shape of Things
2003 - R - 97 Mins.
Director: Neil LaBute
Producer: Neil LaBute
Written By: Neil LaBute
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Paul Rudd, Gretchen Mol, Fred Weller
Review by: Harrison Cheung

So that's the shape of things!
Neil LaBute, one of the more controversial writer/directors who emerged from the 1990s with a number of brutally frank films like IN THE COMPANY OF MEN (about date rape) and YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS (misogyny), wobbles off the mark with THE SHAPE OF THINGS, a play LaBute wrote and adapted to the big screen.

With an impressive cast that stars Paul Rudd, Rachel Weisz, Gretchen Mol, and Fred Weller, THE SHAPE OF THINGS is a modern morality tale that is too talky for its own good. It’s a film that feels like a junior effort– as if a high school student – albeit a very talented one – decided to write a David Mamet script for his high school drama project.

Paul Rudd plays Adam, a wimpy, slightly overweight ‘nice guy’ who meets Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) at an art museum where she is trying to deface a statue with a can of spray paint as an act of creative protest. Apparently, Evelyn is offended by the Victorian fig leaf addition on the statue’s genitals which she feels is dishonest. Why, she wonders, were art patrons of yesteryear offended by ‘the shape of things’ – the penis of this Greco-Roman statue? We get LaBute’s little joke right away – Adam and Eve and a fig leaf.

Evelyn, the firebrand soon entrances Adam. She easily molds him as she tells him to lose weight, what to wear and she eventually convinces him to get a nose job. Of course, from pudgy to male model handsome, this transformation doesn’t go unnoticed by Adam’s friends, Phillip (Weller) and Jenny (Mol). Phillip is appalled by his nerdy buddy’s transformation on many levels. First, in their male bonding friendship, Adam was the pleasant nerd while Phillip was the blond stud alpha male. Second, as Evelyn initiated this transformation, Phillip teases Adam that he is whipped. Complicating matters is that Jenny, who is engaged to Phillip, has a soft spot for the increasingly appealing Adam.

LaBute’s films enjoy exploring the role of the alpha male and the alpha female. How far can dominant characters bully their friends? How powerful is peer pressure and sexuality? These explorations sizzle in his past films but in THE SHAPE OF THINGS, disappointingly bland stereotypes and clichés bog down the drama. Evelyn, as an artsy ‘radical’? Adam, as indecisive nerd with a lack of self esteem? We’ve seen and heard these characters before in soap operas. There’s a surprise at the ending that doesn’t come as much of a surprise – a number of blatant clues are transmitted when Evelyn spouts her ‘radical’ opinions about morality and ethics. And though the physical transformation bolsters Adam’s self-confidence, there’s a jelly core that remains pliable to the prowling alpha’s in the movie.

Though the cast is always interesting, another huge problem with THE SHAPE OF THINGS is that it’s supposed to be set on the campus of a university and, frankly, none of the actors looked young enough to be undergrads. Let’s see… Mol is 31, Weisz is 32, and Paul Rudd is 34? This discrepancy adds to the film’s clumsiness.

Usually when a film is adapted from another medium – like the stage or a book – the filmmaker takes full advantage of the camera’s possibilities. THE SHAPE OF THINGS feels like a taped play. LaBute does little with the campus setting or camera angles – especially to break up the monotony of some very lengthy extended dialogue. It may have been wonderfully entertaining as a play, but THE SHAPE OF THINGS needed another hand in the adaptation before it could stand out as sharply as LaBute’s previous efforts. I got the distinct feeling that this was an early work of LaBute’s (written in college perhaps?) that he dusted off and decided to turn into a movie.

Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

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