2003-06-20 / Columnists

MovieScope By Robert Snyder

"Shape Of Things"
MovieScope By Robert Snyder

"Shape Of Things" – Art As Abuse

 Writer/director Neil LaBute knows how to make an audience squirm. Not by showing worms and insects as in "Indiana Jones" films, but by lifting up the rock covering the utmost ugliness in human relationships. Worms and insects are easier to take.

LaBute delved deep into extreme misogyny with 1997’s "In the Company of Men," where a delicate, pretty, stuttering secretary is emotionally devastated by an office male conspiracy. Based on his stage play, "The Shape of Things" is the flip side of "Men."

Re-casting the four key cast members from the theatrical presentation,
LaBute starts "Shape" cute with an attractive graduate student named Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) preparing to deface (or de-crotch) a statue of God at a museum. Undergraduate Adam (Paul Rudd) works there as a security guard and is instantly intimidated. After a witty Woody Allenesque exchange, Evelyn decides to bypass "God" and spray-paint her phone number on the lining of Adam’s corduroy jacket.

Soon, Evelyn and Adam are shacking up, while attending their Garden of Eden college paradise in California. They meet Adam’s friends, Philip (Frederick Weller) and Jenny (Gretchen Mol), who are planning their marriage. Philip smells a snake in the grass in Evelyn and offers Adam his macho big brother advice, which is his buddy largely ignores. After Evelyn influences major changes in Adam’s attitude and look (she actually talks him into having a nose job), Jenny makes a move on her onetime platonic friend.

The resulting soul kiss is discovered by Philip, who spills the beans to
Evelyn. In a public confrontation, Evelyn brings the ugly truth to the surface before her boyfriend and Jenny, who storms out in a huff. The control-freak art student issues Adam an ultimatum: It’s either her or his longtime friends…he can’t have all three. Cowed, Adam complies, renouncing her friend. However, Evelyn does want all three to show up at her upcoming art project presentation.

The presentation is where LaBute and Evelyn lower their collective
dramatic booms. She creates a reality TV-type nightmare…a stab through the hearts of Adam and his friends. LaBute turns a pleasant sex comedy into Hell on earth.

The question is…is it art or abuse? Do people possess such extremes of
meanness? And is that entertainment?
  While most of the movie is entertaining in the traditional sense, the
finale has the audience leaving the theater looking for vomit bags. It’s hard to imagine the actors going through this masochism night after night on stage. In fact, theater work makes them almost too well rehearsed and too ready for theawful surprises.

Still, "The Shape of Things" is not easily forgotten. Like a bad dream
or a swallow of sour milk, it stays with you…whether you want it to or not.

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