RULES OF ATTRACTION Review
RULES OF ATTRACTION is a brilliant satire, however I get the rather sick feeling that like FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, BIG LEBOWSKI and FIGHT CLUB the film will go mostly reviled by the critic community at large due to a generational difference.
Reading criticisms about there being a lack of an ‘entry character’ to care about simply shows the callousness and the sheer enormity of how out of touch some people are that watch this film.
American culture prior to college and post-college is mostly a culture of repression. A time where the stringent morays of society be it teachers and parents or the business world… well those are the periods where the individual in this country begins to evolve. For the most repressed, college and the open abuse of sexuality, alcohol and drugs runs rampants in a Bacchian manner.
Fucking becomes for many, the whole point of relationships… be they Male/Male, Female/Female or Male/Female. Sure you have folks that are mature in college and have begun to form that full functioning adult thing about mutual respect and understanding. That understand that sex is as much about the build-up as it is about the release as well as the post-coital time too. However, more common is the Simian armpit plucking tribal sense of getting fucked up, fucked and sore. The serial relationships, the casual nature of sensory overload. The massive drug use to FEEL. The hardcore pounding of sex to FEEL something. And the glugging of beer and alcohol to numb it all away.
THE RULES OF ATTRACTION isn’t about the deeply sensitive types. It isn’t about the Richard Dreyfus character from AMERICAN GRAFFITTI… This is about those other people. The amoral ones. The folks that justify it all as being “an experience”. The ones that bang through college as a late day class into an all night party… day after day after day.
Folks that seemingly celebrate each and everyday as though it were the last. The ones that go wild for the first time in their lives. THE RULES OF ATTRACTION is about three such characters. All three characters are transformed by their experiences. Some learn, some merely evolve from it.
The day after I saw this film at Sitges I was sitting down with a lovely reporter from Canal Plus and she didn’t understand the desperate quality of the need to ‘get fucked’ that these characters were exhibiting in the film. She didn’t understand the wanton exhibition of it all. The manic freakshow of unfeeling non-caring characters. However, these characters do feel… They are human.
If you watch Roger Avary’s Sean Bateman, you’ll find someone quite different from socio-psychotic in training that you’ll find in Brett Easton Ellis’ novel… Instead you’ll find a character that we start off to recognize as a social shark… he calls himself a Vampire, but more than that… he’s a shark. He dies if he slows down, a consuming machine. He needs to experience moment to moment, second to second or he dies. By the time you reach the mid-point of the film his character is consumed with the idea of being loved and of loving, but he is still the shark, he’s still a monster. Then he sees himself through the eyes of his loved one, and it completely transforms him. The shark is hurt, he’s contemplative, he’s a raging bull with a Picador’s vara piercing into his neck causing him to bellow out in agony. His is the only character that changes his destiny. What has become of Sean Bateman at the end of the film… nobody can say for sure. Has he been transformed for the better or for the worse? Where is he headed on the motorcycle on that blizzard of a night? Will he hide from his pain, revisit it upon others or become the man he had never been? We may very well never know. That answer is up to the individual, but I can say this… James Van Der Beek fully arrives in cinemas as a real actor in the film. He is absolutely magnetic in the film and a thrill to watch. He isn’t featured on screen so much as he is unleashed. In a way, this reminds me of the wonderful performance that Leonard Nimoy gave in Phillip Kaufman’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. Where a television actor fully unleashes a torrent of emotions that had been forbidden to his serial character upon the boob tube, but upon the silver screen he comes to life. Absolutely splendid.
Watch Shannyn Sossamon’s Lauren Hynde. This isn’t some unfeeling wanton tart, this is a character who is surrounded by orgiastic activity. Her hyper-breeding roommate played by Jessica Biel would put a Eunuch into heat, so Lauren’s desire to lose her virginity is quite understandable. She doesn’t want to just lose it, she has a dream about how she wants to lose it. Whether it be her dreamy Victor or even Sean Bateman… She wants to feel complete, to know what sex fully is. To have that shared moment with a man. What happens to her is as far as her imagination would ever allow her to nightmare about, but if you stay with the movie… If you watch her character, see her react, watch how she’s affected by the serial betrayals. Her roommate, her teacher, both of her dream-mates. The suicide, the unfortunate prank, the terrible deflowering… The Lauren that walks out of “The End of the World Party” at the end of the film with smeared mascara and talks as a human to Paul Denton… This Lauren has aged 10 years in this movie. I don’t believe she’ll ever be the person she was before that party. Who has she become? I’m not sure. This movie isn’t about answers, it is about transformations. The changes.
Behold Ian Somerhalder’s Paul Denton. A gay man that pursues those he’s attracted to, sometimes… often times to terrible ends. In an environment where every guy ruthlessly pursues the object of his desires, he simply attempts the same, only to find an unsympathetic world that is still quite filled with aggressive homophobia. Paul is not happy with his obvious available field of mates, he’s attracted to people as handsome as himself. Watching this film, I just couldn’t imagine a better ALEXANDER THE GREAT than Ian Somerhalder. Just looking at him here, he is an amazingly magnetic presence and his eyes are just piercing. He’s the exact right age for Alexander – and he certainly demonstrates the acting chops here. That’s beside the point though… Where is Paul at the end of the film? He’s had his heart cleaved in two, but he seems to be a humanist at the end… a realist… Not bitter, but sad. Will he be realistic and not self-deluding in his future pursuits of passion? Do any of us?
Now, while these are the three main characters of the film, this is an ensemble cast that just unleashes character after character. Watching Fred Savage or Kip Pardue or Jessica Biel or Kate Bosworth or Thomas Ian Nicholas or Eric Stoltz or Clifton Collins Jr. or Faye Dunaway or Paul Williams just all unleash in this film… You find that each and every actor in this film is alive. Nobody is sleepwalking here like in RED DRAGON.
Then there is Russell Sams’ DICK Jared, who reminds me of Belushi’s brilliant Bluto Blutarsky in the brilliant ANIMAL HOUSE. Russell Sams is just a discovery and a half in the film. I mean watching that guy steal every second from Somerhalder and Dunaway was just stunning. He is a living satyr, an imp. When he walks out of the film, you can’t help but wonder where is he going and what would that movie be like? I mean he is just that friggin great here. His dance scene with Ian to FAITH was simply the sheerest joy I’ve seen in a theater in quite some time. It made me howl with memories of my Band Bus blaring out the rest of that ALBUM and the dance was so perfect, so unbelievably well timed that it feels like sheer spontaneity, like the greatest happy accident caught on camera, except… well, who knows. I do know that according to Bogdanovich, Welles, Dennis Hopper and John Ford… that the greatest achievements on cinema are those happy accidents. Perhaps that was what this was, but however they did it, the carefree elation of it all made me giddy as hell.
Here there is a vital and different pulse under each and every character’s skin. In fact the entire film has a pulse, a beat infused by the vitality of the cinema on display here by Roger Avary.
Everyone seems to highlight VICTOR’S EUROPEAN TRIP, but frankly the Split Screen Marriage Shot and the Snowflake tear both completely blew me away. Watching that snowflake land on Sean Bateman’s eye-corner and melt – the symbolism of a man that is so cold inside that the world’s conscience sends out a flake of snow to force a tear where they should naturally spill forth… BRILLIANT! The Split Screen Marriage is so impressive that the theater in Sitges actually erupted into applause and gasps of awe. There is more of course… The brilliant use of reverse cinema. The use of music… Oh God the use of music in this movie is brilliant.
Avary understands exactly how to use pop-music to perfectly compliment and accent a scene. The use of George Michael’s FAITH and Harry Nilsson’s WITHOUT YOU are so iconic and so perfect as to be unbelievable. This isn’t to downplay the other music… oh no, in fact the rest of the music is equally perfectly chosen, only… These two particular sequences resonated and evoked very strong, albeit totally different, emotional reactions.
Roger Avary literally throws down RULES OF ATTRACTION like a dare to other filmmakers attempting to tell stories in the college age arena. This isn’t just an entertaining film, it is also art, satire and a sociological statement about modern American college lifestyles. I can not highly recommend this movie enough.