The Rules of Attraction

A Film Review By Michael Haley

Rating:R for very strong, pervasive sexual dialogue/themes/situations, explicit language, drug use, a scene of graphic violence, nudity (edited from original NC-17, how this one didn’t get it is beyond me).
Starring: James Van Der Beek, Shannyon Sossamon, Jessica Biel, Eric Stoltz, Ian Somerhalder, Kate Bosworth.
Directed By:Roger Avary

Final Grade:

Let me say one thing before we go any farther…although I disagree, you may not like this movie. This isn’t quite mainstream material, as the sex and drugs are often too close for comfort, there aren’t any likable characters, and the movie makes a mockery of “the rules of attraction” that guide young, naïve minds in the game of romance, or failing that, a good f***. I’ve heard several people walked out of it over the weekend, and therefore this review is not for them. However, if the material doesn’t bother you and you’re looking for one of the most scathing commentaries on relationships I’ve seen in some time, see this movie immediately (after reading the rest of my review of course). Also be forewarned that because the movie is candid about sex that the review will of course discuss sexuality in various ways as well, so if that bothers you, don’t read any further.

The film stars James Van DerBeek in a role that would leave poor Dawson hanging his head in shame (and maybe even Mox from Varsity Blues, the Mike’s all time favorite movie). He plays Sean Bateman, brother of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, who is enrolled at a New England liberal arts college. The time that he should be studying for finals he spends doing and dealing drugs, having sex with just about anything that moves, and falling in love with Lauren, the virgin of the bunch. Lauren is waiting for her boyfriend to return from Europe so that they can intimately make love, while her boyfriend is so zoinked on his European vacation that not only was he promiscuous as hell in Europe but has no clue who she is when he came back. One of his former lovers was Paul, a bisexual who develops a crush on Sean and dreams of what sex with him would be like, while a meaningful relationship is merely a side dish. There’s also Lauren’s roommate Lara, who’s sole purpose in life is the provide a sexual release to any who need it, whether she realizes it or not.

We’re first introduced to these crazy kids at “The End of the World Party” where we are introduced to a character and the film rewinds back to the start and we follow the next character and so forth. After everyone is introduced, we are taken to a point earlier in the story (about three parties earlier), and follow each character as they slowly work themselves to the point where they’ve figuratively reached less than zero (title to another one of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel).

If this film sounds trite and superficial, than this film has already succeeded—the film is a scathing attack on attraction, love, sex, and the shallow motives that underline all three. The five minute opening is brilliant beyond words, and director Avary finds the perfect way to make his points both obvious and subtle, push film technique, and worst of all, make potential trash not only entertaining but thought provoking. He rewinds the action several times throughout the prolonged opening that not only looks cool, but also suggests the notion that these characters are living in a timeless universe where emotion and verve mean nothing, doomed to forever repeat the present while blind to the promise of the future. This theme is recurrent throughout the film until the closing scenes, where hope is only glimpsed upon for a brief moment before that is lost as well. The music is enchanting and the sex manages to be both stylized yet satirical, as at one point Sean meets a girl he mentions “I probably f***ed her last term” and proceeds to do said quote once again, and as his name is flashed upon the screen she screams out for Peter. It’s funny, but disturbingly accurate. Sex to these people isn’t about love, romance, or even attraction, but as a shallow high not unlike that of the coke they constantly snort throughout the film. We often have grand illusions of what we feel the “magical moment” would entail…soft candlelight, soothing music to set the mood, and a partner that truly thinks we’re the greatest and expresses it through his/her caress…but when it comes down to it, it’s more likely than not to happen like the events depicted here. This may be depressing, but a reality that the constant partier knows but chooses not to accept in that it forces him to wake up and face the reality of what he really thinks about the person sharing his bed, or kitchen table.

That’s not to say that movie is necessarily a downer (it is when you stop and think about it, but I’m going with something here)…it’s a laugh out loud farce that gave me a wicked grin for almost the entire run time. The comedy is over the top yet spot on, and single scenes such as Sean’s attempted suicide are hilarious if not crass. He tries several methods such as a cutting himself with a lady’s razor, hanging himself with phone wire from a loose nail, and drinking a bottle a cough syrup that only succeeds in making him very drowsy. Also, this movie has some of the most quotable dialogue uttered in awhile, with such lines as “I only f***ed her because I loved you,” and “I like Sean because he looked, well, slutty. A boy who’d been around. A boy who couldn’t remember if he was Catholic or not.” I saw it with over about a hundred people who were laughing almost none stop, although one striking and haunting scene (the bathtub scene) was able to silence everyone as they couldn’t believe what they were observing. The scene is question will depress the hell out of anyone with a thick skin, and further explores the condition of these character’s lives.

The only negative I can think of at the moment is the over acting on Paul’s part, where he and one of his numerous male lovers dance and prance about on a bed in overblown, chiche homosexual fashion. It didn’t ring true, and didn’t really serve any purpose other than poking fun at homosexual males for no real reason. That aside, I cannot recommend this film enough. I didn’t mention the wonderful use of split screen, the modernist theme of connection (and how none of these characters truly connect, thus dooming them to repeating the present) and so on, because I have to let you guys go sometime, and allow you to see the film and draw your own conclusion, hopefully not “That movie sucks!! I want my dollar back!!” If the legendary Stanley Kubrick ever directed a film about college students and their frivolous attitudes towards life and sex, this might resemble something like it (although it would have taken five years to make, not to mention having a more detached, solid, symmetrical feel to it. Despite the abundant cynicism, there is a small heart beating under the film, and we do feel pity for these people, as we hope that they someday break the confines of their mindsets and truly embrace what not only college but love and life have to offer. This film doesn’t make things look very hopeful, but illuminates where our emotions have gone so horribly, horribly wrong.

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