The Shape Of Things

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Director: Neil LaBute
Writer: Neil LaBute
Producers: Neil LaBute, Rachel Weisz…
Paul Rudd as Adam
Rachel Weisz as Evelyn
Gretchen Mol as Jenny
A goofy, ugly, nerdy college student meets a cute, sexy, groovy art student and develops the balls to actually ask her out on a date. After some time together, the girl starts to change the guy for the better– at least, on the outside– while they continue to fall deeper for one another. Then one day, the girl asks the guy to drop his friends and we’re left to wonder if this relationship is something cool and special or cruel and unusual. Neil LaBute explains…
Continuing where he left off in films like IN THE COMPANY OF MEN and YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS, bad-boy raconteur Neil LaBute is back in full “human beings suck” mode with a film that delves deeper inside the psyche of those of us who engage in a certain something called a “relationship” and therein, throw ourselves into that oh-so subtle “game” of manipulation, emotional vulnerability and ultimately, devastation? I like this kind of movie because it dares to be different despite covering situations that we all have to deal with in our every day lives. This film basically starts off like any other with a cute “opposites attract” couple getting together and seemingly falling for one another. Great…so far. But what happens when the girl starts to change the guy for the “better” and what happens when the guy is “okay” with that and what happens when everything she seems to tell him to do…he does? Well, what happens is a real-life phenomenon which most of us have experienced in one way or another, one that is more commonly known as “being pussy-whipped” (a title I personally would have preferred to the more lame and pretentious one ultimately tagged to this flick) What happens to someone who is pussy-whipped? What happens to a human being when they “fall in love” with someone to the point of losing their own identity, or at the very least, giving away part of themselves as they seemingly feed off their partner’s affection and companionship? What happens when the changes on the outside, start to change the person on the inside? These are only a few of the questions that this film delves into and let me tell you, it’s a wonderful piece of filmmaking in dialogue, acting and consequence.

Sure, the film doesn’t flow as naturally as it could have (the editing is a little obvious at times and some scenes remain on the same on the same shot for too long) and the soundtrack is a friggin’ disaster (felt more intrusive than anything), but the movie is based on a play and for that to work, you really just need the lead elements to click and they all come through in flying colors here. First up, and most importantly in this case: let’s give it up to the actors. Paul Rudd…you surprised me. Rudd was the one of the elements of this film that I had major reservations about before my viewing, but I have to say that he does a great job of portraying this guy throughout the entire movie, and I say that because he truly goes through– not only a major physical transformation– but emotional and psychological ones as well (the final sequence is a keeper). Rachel Weisz was also wisely cunning in her role, with just enough bitchiness to provide us with hate, but plenty of sex and sass to forgive her anyway (holy shit, am I pussy-whipped too?) The two supporting actors (the movie rarely shows anyone outside of these four players-all of whom portrayed these same characters in the stage version of the film as well) were also solid, especially Fred Weller, who was not only hilarious, but a perfect tit to Weisz’s tat. He also carried many of the film’s funnier one-liners, like the one about marriages and how “…by that point, you might as well go through with it” or his comments about Rudd’s new look “…what’s with the Jon Bon Jovi hair”. Every time this guy was on-screen, the piece lit up that much more. I predict bigger things for him. It was also nice to see Gretchen Mol back in a movie again, especially since she also brought along her cute looks, personable demeanor, and once more, a nice yin to her boyfriend’s yang.

A story like will surely be respected by anyone who appreciates “talking heads”, conversations about relationships and analysis, over-analysis and a multitude of discussions thereof. I do, but also have to admit to having “tuned out” every now and again in this film, simply because of the sheer amount of continuous dialogue at times (where it’s basically just them talking and talking and talking and talking…), but thankfully for me, that was a rarity since much of what they were saying was 1) very well-written 2) insightful and 3) developing the characters and moving the story forward. The film also plays with the whole “artist’s responsibility to society, morality” issue, but that piece of the puzzle will likely take me another viewing to fully gestate. It’s also to note that your own “personal” connection to any one character or the situations themselves is sure to pull you further into this tale, and in my case, I’ve had some experience with a little bit of each of these characters, so that definitely helped up my stake. The ending was also delightful (I use that term very loosely) and took me for a friggin’ loop, but only in a way that reconfirmed many of the film’s earlier sentiments. Weisz was also stupendous in one of her final “speech” scenes, specifically in demonstrating both her character’s commitment to her art & self and her obvious trepidation in doing just that. Tough gig, but you pulled it off, girl…and oh yeah, great ass!

This is a great adult movie that one could/should watch with their adult girl/boyfriend by their side. Chances are that you will both walk out of the theater and get into all kinds of nutty discussions about who did what wrong/right and who’s blame-worthy, and at the end of the day, I think that’s what these types of movies are all about. It’s not just entertainment, baby (although it is that too!), it’s a thought-provoker, a cattle-prodder, a slap-in-the-facer and a very loud, very crude “fuck you” in the face of the norm (as per one very powerful scene in the film which combines the “f” and the “u” with the “c”…nice!). Incidentally, LaBute is known to have a very cold, cynical point of view, so if you’re going into this film expecting to see WHEN PAUL MET RACHEL, you can forget it. This is the dark side of human interaction: ugly and cruel, but powerful and resonant nonetheless. Highly recommendable and oh yeah…quite funny too.

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian

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