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The Shape of Things

A contemporary love story set in a college town in which sex and art intertwine as the relationships between four college students become increasingly complicated.


The almost-too-clinical way Neil Labute's The Shape of Things makes its main point follows the title to a tee: it's all about how we perceive and shape things. Take undergraduate English major Adam (Paul Rudd), for example. He is your typical nerd, slightly overweight, his hair generally unkempt; he wears baggy pants and a worn-down corduroy jacket. Clearly he's in desperate need of some shaping (or at least a stylist). His sculptor? Unconventional graduate art student Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), who meets Adam in a museum just as she is about to deface a statue with spray paint. Even though they are as different as two people can be, they begin an intense relationship. Evelyn sees Adam as a work in progress and soon transforms him from geek to chic, cutting his hair, changing his clothes--even convincing him to get a nose job. As well, she opens his mind up to art and freedom he never experienced before. Adam's friends-- the girl-that-got-away Jenny (Gretchen Mol) and her jerky fiancé Philip (Frederick Weller), Adam's former roommate--see the change immediately, especially Jenny, who rather likes the ''new'' Adam. But as Evelyn strengthens her hold on Adam, his emotional and physical evolution begins to take on unexpected consequences for all.


All four contestants in this game of love and modern relationships play it very well. Rudd (Object of My Affection) does a nice job of subtly changing himself from nerdy to attractive without really altering Adam's core personality, while Mol (Rounders) portrays Jenny not merely sweet and wholesome on the surface but with a warm human depth, especially when she grapples with her feelings for Adam. Newcomer Weller aptly handles the snarky Philip, even if he sometimes overdoes it. But the film ultimately belongs to Weisz. As Evelyn, the female version of Labute's typical muse--usually played by Aaron Eckhart as in films such as In the Company of Men and Your Friends & Neighbors--the British Weisz exquisitely encapsulates Shape's cold, calculated themes, even for all Evelyn's seemingly good intentions. On the flip side, Weisz also alienates herself from the audience as an unlikable character with no redemptive qualities in sight. It's a gutsy performance and Weisz takes the job seriously.


Neil Labute definitely likes to work out issues in his films. The writer/director entered the feature film arena with the very dark and disturbing comedy In the Company of Men, about two junior executives who want to ''get back'' at women, so they woo a colleague with the sole purpose of dumping her. It caused quite a stir when it premiered at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, falling into either the ''love it'' (a brilliant commentary) or the ''hate it'' (misogynistic and amoral) camp. Shape of Things is an obvious follow-up to this; it's the woman's turn to be the manipulator. But instead of Men's communal underhandedness and deceitfulness, the actions in Shape are a solitary effort--and undertaken for reasons beyond simply ''getting back'' at men. How Labute quite frankly blows apart the modern relationship keeps you entirely engaged. For once it isn't about the woman scorned who stalks her man like a crazed banshee. Where the film falters somewhat, however, is in its execution. Shape of Things is almost too cold, too devoid of real emotion and, at times, a little preachy. We know it can be a pretty harsh world out there when it comes to relationships, but jeez, lighten up.

Bottom Line

In The Shape of Things, writer/director Neil Labute molds another whopper of a tale about modern romance--but it's hardly a ''date'' movie.