RULES OF ATTRACTION, THE
Set in the small, affluent Camden College of the arts, we meet Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek) a striking young man with only a passing association with his emotions (but adept at trading in drugs), Paul Denton (Ian Somerhalder), a cynical, sexually predatory and intelligent libertine and Lauren Hynde (Shannyn Sossamon) a beautiful befuddled young woman seeking connections where few exist. But human nature determines that in a highly imperfect world, the rules of attraction always apply...and among the co-eds at Camden College, the first rule is: There are no rules.
Review by Louise Keller:
No-one knows anyone is the theme of The Rules of Attraction, an adult teen movie with personal monologues from three students aimlessly exploring life and who they are. Masturbation, over indulgence, sexuality, drug-taking, unrequited love, suicide and fantasies are all part of this crude, morose taste of campus life. I haven’t read the novel, but I suspect that the narrative probably works better on the printed page than the movie, allowing the imagination to do the work with imagery of your own chosing. After all, it’s the nuances and emotions that are the key to what this is all about. In the opening sequence, we meet the central characters, and without delay at The End of the World Party, we are in the bedroom with beautiful freshman Lauren, who is anxious to lose her virginity. But she has overindulged, and as a result she isn’t quite sure who is heaving on top of her. She thinks it’s the guy with the digital camera, but when she sees him recording the scene, she realises that it’s someone else who is deflowering her. And then he spews all over her. And then we see it backwards. This is indicative of what to expect – animalistic behaviour. Interestingly director Roger Avary plays with the time frame and we to and fro from the present to the past, occasionally rewinding the action so that life takes a trip backwards. James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel and Kip Pardue give convincing performances, and Van Der Beek somehow makes his revolting character appealing. Sossamon is a classy act, impressing yet again as the virgin who looks at venereal disease photos before going to a party, hoping it will act as a deterrent. The problem is much of the action acts as a deterrent and we don’t really care for the characters. In the hospital scene, when a student is taken to emergency for a suspected overdose, the comment ‘toe tag time in teensville’ by a physician simply reeks cynicism. But then, let’s face it, this is a film that could be called The Rules of Repulsion, and much of it is repulsive to watch. I can’t imagine what enticed Faye Dunaway to the project: she pops up in a small cameo that is totally inconsequential and looks rather uncomfortable. Good use of music however, with a compelling selection of good rhythmic pop tunes that often illustrate emotions. The story ends where it began, at The End of the World Party, by which time we have learned that no-one knows anyone. And probably never will. Rock ‘n roll.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It wants to shock, but for me the overwhelming sensation for much of the film’s two hours was ennui. And the reason isn’t that it’s a bad film or that Roger Avary has no talent. Quite the opposite. The film is as good as it can be and Avary uses some intriguing cinematic devices to give us a visual version of this controversial Bret Easton Ellis novel from the late 80s. As in his American Psycho, Ellis dissects his society graphically, with an icy eye and sharp scalpel. In the novel, the reader is involved and engaged through the unique binding forces of the written word harnessing the imagination. But as English director (The English Patient) Anthony Minghella so effectively puts it, there is a vast difference between the prose sentence and the movie sentence. What is written and described by words can take on a graphic significance once ‘physicalised’ on the screen, quite different to how we see the descriptive writing. For instance, scenes of masturbation. Or fornication. Or puking. Or puking and fornicating together. But these examples are only the surface ones. While the sense of the nihilistic world of the contemporary (or recent?) American campus – as Ellis portrays it – is clear enough, it is as if the film has taken scenes from the book and separated them from the sinews and juices that glue it all together. It ends up playing like an episodic wank – both literally and metaphorically. The cast, as I say, are excellent; the leads are all able to create characters who are going nowhere, lost and confused, empty and living from one artificial high to another, while also showing us a glimpse of what they might have been. But this sort of novel defies successful adaptation – it is deformed by it.
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RULES OF ATTRACTION, THE (R)
CAST: James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel, Kip Pardue
PRODUCER: Greg Shapiro
DIRECTOR: Roger Avary
SCRIPT: Roger Avary (novel by Bret Easton Ellis)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Brinkman
EDITOR: Sharon Rutter
MUSIC: Tom Hajdu, Milla Jovovich, Andy Milburn
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sharon Seymour
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 20, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
VIDEO RELEASE: July 9, 2003