Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Shape of Things

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

THE SHAPE OF THINGS

7/10

USA (US/Fr/UK) 2003 : Neil LaBUTE : 96 mins

LaBute finally back to something like form of 1997 debut In the Company of Men. In between, lost way somewhat with smartarse Your Friends and Neighbours (1998); patchy Zellweger-vehicle Nurse Betty (2000); Paltrow-vehicle and still-baffling material choice Possession (2002). No coincidence during this period became better-known as playwright, West End/Off-Broadway. The Shape of Things originally one such transatlantic success. Theatrical origins apparent: stagey delivery of reference-laden dialogue takes some getting used to; only four speaking parts, most scenes talky two-handers between central couple, Adam (Paul Rudd) and Evelyn (Rachel Weisz).

He: chubby, dowdy, bad-hair, prominent nose, bad dress sense. Pleasant non-entity; mid-20s postgrad student supplements income working in campus museum, small California coastal college town (looks like San Luis Obispo). She: provocatively intelligent, knockout-looking art-student. Full of radical ideas, playfulness. Makes the move on Adam. Starts making him over bit by bit: weight-loss, confidence gain, trendy haircut and clothes, nose-job. Transformation amuses/bemuses of Adams frat-boy ex-roommate Philip (Weller); leads to friction with Philips fiancee Jenny (Mol). Adam can’t believe his luck – and neither can we, given writer-directors track-record as king of nasty ulterior motives (unfair) reputation as Mormon misanthrope.

Starts off as a sitcom-satire look at power-dynamics of amusingly one-sided relationship: but LaBute and his manipulative anti-heroine have maliciously clever intellectual twist in store. Unfair to say more, but payoff works well. Strong idea: audacious conceit, smoothly executed and expertly acted Weisz is major revelation with bonus of well-chosen Elvis Costello numbers giving soundtrack suitably brainy, jagged edges. Prosthetics used for Rudd slim-down remarkable and utterly invisible: leap ahead of Kidmans Hours proboscis and, closest comparison, Robert John Burke from Thinner. Goes from jowlier version of scruffy Jason Lee in Mallrats to shorter real-life Ben Affleck (Rudd spookily resembled Affleck in Two Days). However LaBute still prisoner of own cleverness? Over-articulate characters pawns/tools in schematic formula/experiment? Nagging artificiality of what is basically just In the Company of Woman

21st November, 2003
(seen 1st November : Odeon West End, London London Film Festival)

click here for a full list of films covered at the 2003 London Film Festival

by Neil Young