The Shape of Things

When In the Company of Men came out, some people branded Neil LaBute a misogynist for his horrible treatment of women. The movie intentionally did this not to demean women, but to show how horrible the men in the film were. Now, he takes the other side in The Shape of Things, with a highly manipulative female protagonist played by Rachel Weisz, and a putz of man played by Paul Rudd. The Shape of Things was originally a play written and directed by LaBute, and Weisz, Rudd, Gretchen Mol, and Paul Weller all reprise their roles for the big screen. The good thing about this is that the actors are extremely familiar with their roles, and it shows. Their performances are nuanced and complex. Heck, they've had a lot of practice. The downside is that the dialogue still feels very theatrical and artificial.

The culmination of the film is pretty obvious shortly into the film, which takes some of the power away from it. Adam (Rudd, The Chateau, Wet Hot American Summer) is a frumpy college student who meets Evelyn (Weisz, Confidence, About a Boy) in the museum. She is in the graduate arts program, and is there to deface a statue. The statue has a leaf over the penis, but the museum placed the leaf there, and she believes that the leaf itself is a form of defacement. The two are clearly opposites, and Adam somehow manages to ask for her number. She agrees, and, to Adam's surprise, they begin dating. Ever the manipulative woman (their names are "Adam" and "Eve"), Evelyn begins molding Adam in the image she wants. Adam is so smitten with her that he does what she wants, sometimes without knowing he is doing it.

Evelyn convinces him to lose weight, change his hairstyle and clothes, and even get a nose job. His friends Phillip (Weller, The Business of Strangers, Puppet) and Jenny (Gretchen Mol, Get Carter, Just Looking) immediately notice the changes, and both believe it is for the better. Phillip and Jenny are engaged, and at one point Jenny and Adam liked each other, but their relationship never went anywhere (or began, for that matter). As the changes become more drastic, they begin to change their feelings, particularly as Evelyn becomes nastier. Part of makes The Shape of Things not as good as it could be is that Evelyn is so blatant. Anybody with half a brain can see what she is doing. The only person here who can see is Phillip. Soon, Evelyn begins involving Phillip and Jenny into her little mind games, culminating in her asking Adam to disown them as friends to prove his love for her.

Although one basically waits for the end to happen, LaBute (Possession, Nurse Betty) does give Weisz a good monologue. In it, he raises some interesting questions. Is it right or wrong for Evelyn to do what she did? In many ways, Adam is a better person. He looks better, has more confidence, and a refreshed outlook on life. She changed him from a nerdy, stuffy person into a cute hunk. However, does the end justify the means? To get here, one has to sit through some increasingly outlandish stunts that the Evelyn character plays on Adam. The only way that Adam would succumb to such things is if he were spineless and malleable to an unbelievable extent. The characters just do not feel like "real" people. They do what movie characters do so that certain plot points can happen. Phillip and Jenny are engaged, but clearly have issues to deal with, and these issues surface just as Adam gets hunkier. Again, it probably works on stage much better than it does on film, but it is still an interesting watch.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 37 minutes, Rated R for language and some sexuality.

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