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View Date: October 11th, 2002

Rating: ($$ out of $$$$$)

Cast:

James Van Der Beek Sean Bateman
Shannyn Sossamon Lauren Hynde
Ian Somerhalder Paul Denton
Jessica Biel Lara Holleran
Kip Pardue Victor Johnson
Kate Bosworth Kelly
Thomas Ian Nicholas Mitchell Allen
Clare Kramer Candice
Jay Baruchel Harry
Eric Stoltz Mr. Lawson
Clifton Collins Jr. Rupert Guest
Faye Dunaway Mrs. Denton
Swoosie Kurtz Mrs. Jared
Colin Bain Donald
Russell Sams Dick Jared

Directed by:
Roger Avary

Written by:
(novel)
Bret Easton Ellis 
(screenplay) Roger Avary 

Related Viewings:
Memento
American Psycho (2000)

Killing Zoe (1994)
Less Than Zero (1987)

Official Sites:
Rules of Attraction


Also see my reviews at:

 


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The Rules of Attraction


The Rules of Attraction takes place at a supposedly fictional university called Camden College.  Now, let me give you an overview of what I imagine their promotional listing would look like in a catalog. 

Small quaint co-ed college located on the beautiful East Coast of America.  Frequent interaction between students allows for a relaxed environment so that focus can be put on your education.  Come experience our inspiring End of The World Party, or our Dress to Get Screwed social mixer for you to get to know your fellow students better and foster lasting relationships.  Morality, consideration, honesty and fidelity not accepted, so check your emotions at the gate.  Student teacher relationships increased by relaxed drug and alcohol usage, while promiscuity is encouraged to allow exploration and emotional growth.

Sounds like your kind of college doesnít it?  Attraction is not a film deeply rooted in a realistic setting.  Itís hedonistic attitude and morally deplorable nature explores the worst nightmare for any parent considering sending their kids away to college.  Itís characters go to the other extreme of most teen comedies.  Whereas those films have rich, spoiled troubled kids, beautiful people flirting and toying with each other, nerds looking to fit in, and wallflowers trying to find themselves, Attraction has a group of students to whom social and financial status is not as much of a concern as it is an excuse for certain actions.  The romantic tales explored here are the realistic aspect of the film.  The pretty people do not have a cute meeting, a period of casual flirting, a relationship filled with discovery and emotional bonding, followed by a brief misunderstanding and concluding in a reconciliation and a happily ever after.  Far from it actually, these students sample all of the available options like an amorous buffet.  The romantic circles are a tad dizzying but do reflect the confusion and discovery that most college age students go through.  I just really have to wonder if they are all this self-servient and morally void. 

Donít let the previews fool you for a second.  Just as in dating, when you see an attractive person that looks fun, nice, carefree and possibly a little wild and crazy, The Rules of Attraction turns that woman into an insecure, vice ridden, complex emotional mess. In its finest moments, of which there are an unexpectedly surprising amount, this  is a darkly realistic, creatively filmed tale of the pains that love can cause.  The kind of pains that Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco sing about, the kind that when they occur in younger life can scar and mold the future romantic endeavors of all involved.  I would like to think that these are thanks to the words of Bret Easton Ellis, who wrote the novel on which this movie is based.  This is a film that doesnít want you to like it, only try and understand the motivations behind its characters.  These are not pretty teens, spoiled, rich, beautiful without a care in the world.  These are the antithesis of that, and the film is at its best when it realizes thatAt its worst however, it is little more than a depressing take on the carefree teen lifestyle films which are made as antithesis to the typical teen comedies, but are little more than American Pie or Heathers retreads.  A friend of mine tells me that he cannot like a movie if there are no redeeming characters within the story.  I am guessing that heís going to have a very hard time with this film.  The characters are unlikeable, pretty on the outside, ugly, troubled and conflicted on the inside.  The film deals with the down side of a hormonally driven, drug induced lifestyle that is unfortunately very prevalent in college age kids these days. Ellisís novel must go into some detail explaining the characters a bit more, but we know just enough to mutually sympathize and despise just about everyone in the film.  What pulls this film from the muck of typical films is the creative camera work, the non-linear storytelling method, the fearless nature with which it deals with sex, drugs, suicide, depression and obsession, and some shockingly solid performances from the relatively unknown leads.

Ellisís novels tend to deal in the repercussions, both visible and repressed, or excesses within the human condition.  American Psycho tackled capitalism, while Less Than Zero dealt with drug usage and casual sex. In Rules of Attraction, he turns his wicked satirical perspective towards the uncomfortable nature of dating and love. Everything centers around an end of the world party being thrown on the campus of the aforementioned Camden college.  Like Memento and Run Lola Run, we are introduced to characters, then rewound (we actually see the rewinding which helps explain the next scene) and introduced to another.  We meet Paul, a homosexual whose gaydar is apparently out of sync as he misreads the affections of a man, while pining for another. We meet Lauren, a pretty but lonely girl who is pining for a boyfriend, Victor, who is off having his own frivoulous sexcapade throughout Europe.  Lauren is still a virgin, but not for long as she is deflowered by a voyeuristic film student, not a wise career move, but probably closer to true than most Dawsonís Creek episodes would have you believe.  Speaking of that show, we then meet Sean (Van der Beek) a ruggedly handsome, drug addicted young man who tears up a purple note as he watches Lauren longingly.  Paul stares at Sean, Sean stares at Lauren, Lauren disappears and reappears a different person.  This is the groundwork, and it compels slightly as it flashes back to the events leading up to this moment.  We are shown the courtship between Lauren and Sean, the mistaken attraction and relationship between Paul and Sean, and we are shown that Seanís life is slowly coming unraveled in a cocaine haze.  The rest of the film, save flashes of this original creativity, becomes situations which range from intense (a womanís obsession with Sean via correspondence in said purple notes) to slightly animated (Collins as a drug dealer with a Jamaican heavy) to downright silly (a rebellious gay friend of Paulís who appears, offends and disappears with very little discernible purpose).  The dark themes of Ellisís novel are very visible, but often clouded amidst long sequences of boredom and the aforementioned silliness,  The excessive nature of all the characters definitely carries on the theme of Ellisís previous works, namely American Psycho.  This looks like what the college life of Psychoís main character may have been like.  But for all of this edginess, the film loses touch too many times to have the impact that it should.

The depressing mode that pervades nearly every aspect of the film is oddly refreshing.  It shows that not everyone thinks the world exists as it does in most of these type of films.  The characters are flawed and  have issues (Lauren looks at pictures of venereal diseases to dissuade her sex drive, while her roommate acts her sexuality out on those whom she knows will be most hurt by it) They seem frighteningly like the way that college students probably are these days.  This should scare us, since most of us donít want to admit that our excessive lifestyles may be rooted in these kind of situations and our eccentricities may stem from deeper rooted occurrences.  However, no matter how far the film goes, it could have gone farther, compacting things a bit more, excising certain unnecessary things, and made it a more powerful story than it is. Thankfully, the full circle conclusion saves some face, as its characters have to deal with the repercussions of actions and decisions.  It didnít quite make the journey worth the ride, but it showed that there was indeed something great lurking just under the surface.  There is one disturbing sequence in the movie that may seem thrown in for shock value at the time, but if you reflect on it later, may be the most powerful representation of the damage that these types of actions can cause.  It makes the audience almost want to scream at the character, pray for intervention or hope that its all a dream.  But alas, as the montage shows afterwards, life is not a dream, and neither are the messages that these characters convey.

Van der Beek is definitely trying to shatter his pretty boy, clean cut image with this one in a similar manner that Cruise did in Interview with The Vampire.  He uses those piercing eyes and disarming smile to mask a devious agenda beneath.  Although his sensitivity still exists, we are given enough reason to doubt and suspect Sean of having ulterior motives.  Soussamon finally shows some acting ability, after fluffy roles in Knights Tale and 40 Days, 40 Nights.  Her natural beauty definitely conflicts with the troubled road that her character drives herself down.  These are dark, moody performances which carry the film even through its lulls.  Mix in some cameos, some of which work (Stoltz as an adulterous professor,  Dunaway and Kurtz as overindulgent, oblivious parents who reflect how their children may have ended up with issues) to a seemingly overatcing  Collins, as the maniacal, but pointless drug dealer.  These reflect both realized and wasted potentials of the film.  

Ultimately, The Rules of Attraction is a film that does a lot of things right, but misfires one too many times for me to recommend it completely.  We all seek perfection, happiness and acceptance in all that we do, and when there are so many vices available to exorcise these needs, we feel we must indulge them.  This was definitely promising and showed great potential for a much better story, but I have to believe that Avary lost Ellisís edge and intentions while trying to make the film more appealing for the very demographic that the film skewers.  The promise is diluted in long, drawn out scenarios and situations. Avary, who co-wrote Pulp Fiction and helmed the unappreciated heist film Killing Zoe, showcases his talent at utilizing the camea as a character of its own.  From his whirlwind recap of a hedonistic European vacation to  the split screen camera meeting between Sean and Lauren, he truly gives this film a touch of style and thoughtfulness.  For all this magic though,  something was still missing.  I really tried to like this film, there were so many moments of hope; the entire backwards nature reflects how things make much more sense when told in reverse, or at least remembered that way. Unfortunately, for every one of these moments, there are too many droll stretches that dilute the overall message.  

I was very conflicted on how to rate this movie.  On one hand, it spits in the face of most conventional storytelling methods and successfully uses camera work to add an additional edge and impact to things.  Told in normal fashion, this would be little more than a Lifetime teen movie of the week.  So that was in the films favor.  Still, I was left yearning for more.  The moments that transition these sequences seem languishing if not altogether unnecessary.  Without them, we may not have known as much about the characters as we do, but it would have given their ultimate actions a bit more impact.  So when the smoke clears and the credits role backwards, I must hesitantly rate it the way I do; a nice effort that just misses.  I applaud Avaryís effort, I appreciate the soundtrack which includes some long forgotten great songs by Erasure, Public Image Limited, The Cure and Love and Rockets, but I scoff at the lines which Avary teasingly only crosses a few times on his way to the conclusion.  With a little more edge, a little less monotony and predictibility, this could have been an edgy guilty pleasure.  As it stands now, itís a film that shows a ton of potential, moments of greatness, but like that glance at a beautiful girl across a room, the moments are fleeting and the imagined path that runs through the minds of all involved, become drowned in the reality of it all.  

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