Director Neil LaBute is known for depicting cruel psychological games. In his electric debut, "In The Company of
Men," two men, tired of suffering miserable fates at the hands of women, concoct a scheme to boost their egos: they
pick a vulnerable woman, wine and dine her, and then, once she begins to fall in love with them, they kick her to the
curb. Following in those footsteps is "The Shape of Things," a film that explores the tempestuous relationship between
Adam and Evelyn, two individuals searching for truth, but with completely different motives. Harsh, unflattering, and
outrageous, it is guaranteed to leave a prolonged impression.
Adam works part time as a security guard for a museum near California's fictional Mercy College. One day, with his
shift almost over, he encounters Evelyn, a free spirit who appears obsessed with a statue of a naked man. Evelyn
takes Polaroids of the figure's genitalia and even crosses the museum's boundaries to get a closer look. The statue,
obscured by a fig leaf, offends her because it represents an obvious attempt at censorship. Before she can deface it
with a can of spray paint, Adam approaches her. Awkwardly shy and reserved, Adam charms her and gets her phone number
painted on his jacket. Instantly, opposites attract and the two form a unique love connection.
Over the next several months, the two become inseparable and Adam slowly begins to change in behavior and appearance. He
gets rid of his nerdy jacket and purchases a new one, he gets contact lenses in place of his glasses, he has plastic
surgery, stops chewing his fingernails, and even loses weight. Gradually, Adam changes from an overweight, introverted,
nerd into a slim, outgoing and confident guy.
Shocked by this transformation are friends, Philip and Jenny. Philip was Adam's former roommate and Jenny was
the girl that got away. The two appear happily engaged and are even planning an outlandish underwater
wedding. But interesting character traits and pasts are uncovered as Evelyn begins to push each of their
buttons, forcing a variety of changes in personas. While the characters give the outward appearance that
things are okay, internally, things are not what they seem. Says Evelyn: "It's a living example of our
obsession with the surface of things." As relationships rapidly evolve and dissolve, it would seem that
nothing could prepare them for the unexpected, explosive finale.
"The Shape of Things" was written as a stage play and even made its way to Broadway before appearing as a film. Thus,
dialogue is what drives the film, particularly since it is comprised of only four characters and roughly twenty different
scenes. Much like another of LaBute's films, "Your Friends & Neighbors," where 3 men are pitted against 3 women, this
quintet of characters interacts in a way in which men and women are perceived as enemies in an ongoing battle of the sexes. But what makes for an interesting stage play doesn't always translate to film very well. At times, the scenes seem to drag on and on. Instead of allowing the actors' expressions to move and resolve a scene, the need for additional dialogue weighs the scenes down even after we've concluded how it's going to end. In a scene between Adam and Jenny, we slowly learn more about their feelings for one another. Yet, before the two meet, we already know their history and sense their mutual feelings. Despite attempts to make the scene more interesting by migrating from park bench, to playground, to ocean panorama,
the dialogue becomes monotonous and unnecessary.
LaBute deliberately emphasizes his themes, both visually and subliminally. Without further explanation, we know that
Rachel (and most likely LaBute himself) is against censorship and that whether you like it or not, it's better to be
opinionated than indifferent. We see this in her "performance" with Philip, we see this when she flips us off during her
thesis, and we see this echoed in the main gallery with the obvious quote: "Moralists have no place in an art gallery."
Of most importance is the notion that seduction is an art form. In other words, is it possible for
manipulation, the ability to alter or change something or someone for selfish reasons, to be an art form?
Merriam Webster defines art as "the conscious use of skill and creative imagination in the production of
aesthetic objects." And when interpreting this kind of 'art' throughout the film, it is crucial to focus on
how art is manufactured - that art is conceived through the application of skill and creativity to produce
something that is beautiful. I love this kind of ambiguity and you'll have fun deciphering it on your own.
My personal inclination is that while seduction requires a certain degree of skill and creativity, it is not
an expression of oneself. Art, therefore, cannot be rendered through mental persuasion or suggestion.
One of the highlights of the film is Paul Rudd, wonderfully playful as the evolutionary Adam (note the
coincidence in names - Adam and Eve-lyn). Like a puppy dog with a crush, Rudd shows a remarkable range of
expressiveness encapsulated in a series of facial expressions - from a childlike grin of joy to a bewildered
look of surprise to an emblazoned visage of rage. Rudd is phenomenal. Equally up to the task is Rachel
Weisz, who also produced the film. She plays a different kind of role, one of the rebellious, manipulative
Evelyn. Although her role may be less dynamic, it is still potent because she is a woman on a mission. This
degree of seriousness requires the opposite type of expressions: distant, chaotic, and delusional.
For director Neil LaBute, "The Shape of Things" is a return to grotesque portraits of corroding
relationships. Although at times, it appears contrived and dialogue-heavy, it earns solid marks because it
evokes an internal reaction, not to mention a reaction to one of the most humiliating moments in cinematic
history. A thought provoking film, you may hate it, love it, or simply appreciate it. But that is film and
that is art - an explorative, creative, and utterly subjective form of personal expression.