Rules Of Attraction, The
This wry collegiate comedy scratches the dark underbelly of human desires.
Novelist Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho) once again probes the dark side with this look at a group of spoiled college brats at Camden College. The adaptation of his novel focuses on the parties (''The End of the World Party,'' the ''Pre-Saturday Night Party,'' the ''Dress To Get Laid Party'') and, following logically from there, the ubiquitous hookups, heavy petting and, yes, even rape--in this case of the drunkest girl at one of said parties. Walking us through the madhouse of debauchery is sometime student, sometime drug dealer Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek), whose propensity for wicked sexual exploits seemingly knows no bounds (yes, his brother is indeed American Psycho's Patrick Bateman). Still, Sean is in love, although you can't tell from his behavior, with Lauren Hynde (Shannyn Sossamon)--perhaps the only BVOC (that's Big Virgin on Campus) remaining on the planet. Lauren is in love with Victor (Kip Pardue), who's sleeping and drugging his way through Europe this semester, and she used to be in love with Paul Denton (Ian Somerhalder), who's now out of the closet and himself in love with Sean. See how it all comes full circle? The key goals of all the characters seem to be to get laid, get drunk, find pot, smoke pot, get laid again--all in the space of an evening. It's a fairly nihilistic existence--and one that the film staunchly refuses to comment upon or judge. This is just the way it is; watch at your own risk.
The young cast is right at home in the '80s college atmosphere, and Van Der Beek in particular gives a fine performance as the guy you love to hate. He makes his several extreme close-ups more about developing his character than about making his face look prettier, which is refreshing to see. Heck, the guy even takes a dump on camera--he is not afraid. Sossamon, as the only sympathetic character in the movie, fares well, too, although in several scenes she's put in what I'll just call compromising positions. Jessica Biel as Sossamon's slutty roommate Lara spends most of her screen time rather unflatteringly on her back, and from that position it's kind of hard to judge her performance. She seems believable enough. Somerhalder's Adonis looks complement his Wildean character, whose façade of worldliness covers an insecurity that shows us the pitfalls of sophomoric homosexuality--but he's not afraid to let loose with a little childish joy, either, hamming it up like a pro in a Risky Business-like scene that has him dancing in his underwear on a hotel room bed with a new partner.
From The Rules of Attraction's first scenes, which begin at a party, then rewind to show how each character came to be there and how they came to be in their present condition, director Roger Avary lifts what could have been another drug-addled film about the lives of self-indulgent college students from that particular cesspool and into the sometimes murkier realm of sordid realism. Throughout the movie, you can almost feel the sticky, beer-covered floor beneath your feet, yet at the same time the college setting is almost coincidental to the underlying theme, which seems to be that people are inherently hedonistic, brutish and self-serving. Still, because he insists on showing rather than telling, Avary lets the scenes speak for themselves; he doesn't judge the characters or throw messages at the audience. That means that even as the end credits roll (backwards, of course), you'll be thinking about his film--trying to work out exactly what it meant and what it says about desire, love and human relations. And that can't be a bad thing.
Interestingly told and sharply directed, The Rules of Attraction is an unrelenting look at the egocentric, futile efforts we all make to satiate our deepest desires, set in the first place many of us ever get the chance to try--college.