The Shape Of Things

2003, Movie, R, 97 mins


Adapted from his own stage play with the original cast intact, this installment in Neil LaBute's ongoing examination of the war between men and women is a bitter variation on the tale of Pygmalion and Galatea that doesn't miss a single cheap shot. La Bute's Pygmalion is Mercy College art student Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), who meets dumpy, self-effacing English literature major Adam (Paul Rudd) in the campus museum, where she plans to commit an act of philosophical vandalism. Incensed that a marble nude has been defaced in the name of propriety — bluestockings insisted on the addition of a fig-leaf merkin — Evelyn plans to deface the defacement by painting a phallus over the offending cover-up. Adam screws up his courage to ask this firebrand for a date and, to his amazement, she accepts; what could someone so smart, stylish and beautiful possibly want with him? It quickly becomes clear that she wants a project, since she immediately sets about changing Adam. She gently nudges him to lose weight, get a haircut, stop biting his nails and invest in a new wardrobe. Adam's macho best friend, Philip (Frederick Weller), who's engaged to beautiful but insecure Jenny (Gretchen Mol), on whom Adam once nursed a secret crush, pegs Evelyn for a manipulative bitch. But Adam's hooked: She's the most exciting thing that's ever happened to him. Yes, she's polemical, pretentious and pushy, but she's also hot and seductively self-confident. No-one ever looked twice at Adam before she started polishing his rough edges. Now he's a bona fide cute guy, and Jenny's admitting shyly that she's kind of attracted to him, her engagement to the self-centered, overbearing Philip notwithstanding. What sounds like the stuff of hundreds of vapid romantic comedies is something entirely different in LaBute's hands, and there's a real sting in the story's tail. But until La Bute reveals all with a resounding "a-ha!", Evelyn, Adam, Philip and Jenny embody everything intellectually lazy and emotionally immature about college students, and their overtly issue-driven conflicts seem cliched and banal until the final twist throws everything into a new light and reveals the depths of Evelyn's modish Machiavellianism. Combined with the Mamet-lite dialogue, a medley of all-too-deliberate pauses, smug literary allusions and calculatedly careless repetitions of the word "thingie" that obscure the meaning hidden in supposedly meaningless prattle, the result is a chic, vitriolic polemic that's as irritating as it means to be provocative. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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