The Rules Of Attraction

2002, Movie, R, 110 mins


Further proving that so-so books often make better movies than good ones, writer-director Roger Avary pulls Bret Easton Ellis's second novel out of its sophomore slump and delivers a technically deft, sometimes bitterly funny look at sex, drugs and "faggy synth-pop" at a small New England college. The center attraction is Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek), a bed-hopping, drug-dealing senior at Camden College who owes quite a bit of money to a coke-crazed townie (Clifton Collins Jr.). Sean's been receiving anonymous mash notes from a secret admirer he suspects is Lauren Hynde (Shannyn Sossamon), a skateboarding coed who's somehow made it to college with her virginity intact. To the reflexively manipulative Sean, Lauren represents something pure and innocent, and while she's interested in Sean, Lauren pines for her "only slightly gay" boyfriend, Victor (Kip Pardue), a drama major who's off touring Europe. Paul Denton (Ian Somerhalder), Lauren's ex, on the other hand, is now entirely gay and has a penchant for the kind of guy who's more likely to give him a punch in the mouth than a kiss on the lips. Paul sets his sights on Sean at a noisy party, mistaking the words "case of beer" for "quesadilla," and letting wishful thinking convince him that Sean is asking him out for Mexican food. Filled with coke, booze and feelings they can't express, none of these kids can connect; their interactions are defined by misread signals, unsigned letters and misheard requests for more beer. The book's profundities — "no one knows any one, ever" — smack of a strictly undergraduate brand of despair, which Avary gamely tries to deliver with a straight face. The film may ultimately leave you with the same empty feeling as Ellis's fiction, but it's often ingenious in its telling. The opening sequence, in which Avary introduces each of his characters, then sets the clock spinning backwards, is a thrilling tour de force, and Avary manages to make Ellis's vision of college as four wasted years of musical beds, drunken bacchanals, suicides and overdoses (classes? what classes?) seem somewhat believable. It's like the negative reverse of Dawson's Creek, an impression that's reinforced by the surprisingly successful casting of Van Der Beek as the scowling Sean, whose older sibling, serial-killing Wall Street warrior Patrick Bateman, was the protagonist of Ellis' next novel, American Psycho. Patrick's shadow adds grim resonance to the fact that heartbreak appears to be squeezing the last ounce of humanity out of his baby brother. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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The Rules Of Attraction
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