After a brief foray into romantic waters with last year’s Possession, writer-director Neil LaBute returns to more familiar misanthropic territory with The Shape of Things, a one-trick pony based on his 2001 play and featuring the stage production’s original cast. The film, a cross between LaBute’s In the Company of Men and Pygmalion (except with the gender roles reversed), the film is ostensibly a stinging examination of how providing love and support in a relationship frequently encourages only selfishness and cruelty. However, not unlike Todd Solondz’s Storytelling, this preposterous relationship drama is also LaBute’s staunch defense of his own work; the director’s latest argues that art must sometimes be coldly impersonal and even venomous in order to teach us supposed “truths” about ourselves. Nerdish college student Adam (Paul Rudd) falls in love with free-spirited artist Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), who begins to transform him—through haircuts, new wardrobes, and even a nose job—into a respectable, cool, and confident young man. Adam’s friend Phillip (Fred Weller) and Phillip’s fiancé Jenny (Gretchen Mol)—a beauty who Adam always wished he had asked out—are taken aback by Adam’s radically new personality, and soon Adam begins to buy into the compliments he’s receiving, acting in ways that Evelyn will eventually dub “questionable.” As it turns out, everything about Evelyn reeks of narcissistic hypocrisy, but because she’s the only one who accepts LaBute’s trite theory that “Moralists have no place in an art gallery”—a quote seen written on a wall at Evelyn’s graduate thesis art project—she becomes the film’s hero. While such a statement may, in theory, be true, the lengths to which LaBute goes to prove its veracity feel like an obvious attempt to rebuke his critics. Immature and simplistic, The Shape of Things preemptively negates any challenges to its pessimistic worldview as fundamentally unimportant, since the film champions the idea that the nature of art itself—good or bad, mean or kind, manipulative or suggestive—is that it is beyond reproach. In the pedantic hands of the controversial LaBute, however, such a theme sounds like self-congratulatory justification for his cynical, shallow morality plays, of which this film is merely the latest.
- Focus Features
- 96 min
- Neil LaBute
- Neil LaBute
- Gretchen Mol, Paul Rudd, Rachel Weisz, Fred Weller
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