The Rules of Attraction Reviews
brook - class of '87
"There Are No Rules"
The Rules of Attraction was a very disappointing movie for me. Not because it was really bad or poorly made, but because it never was able to get its point across in a way that was satisfying. Along the way, the film has some interesting commentary and dark humor, but the message is lost. I haven't read the book, but I'm guessing that the movie left out something that was vitally important in getting the message across clearly.
This follows a love triangle at Camden University, where rich, young men and women go to party, do drugs, and have sex. I think classes go on there too, but it doesn't seem like many of the characters really give a shit. The love triangle is between Sean, Paul, and Lauren. Sean is a part-time drug dealer who falls in love with Lauren. Paul is a bisexual, who used to date Lauren and now has a thing for Sean. Lauren is a virgin, who is waiting for her boyfriend to come back from Europe, but also wants to lose her virginity.
As far as college movies go, this one is completely different. It's dark, it's odd, and it all seems very hateful. There's no sympathy for the characters which isn't something that has ever made me hate a movie, and it doesn't make me hate this one. What made this a disappointment for me was that it had such promise the whole time, and then we get to the end and I'm just left confused at what the actual point is.
This is an entertaining movie that has some good things too say and some not so good things to say. In the end though I was left wanting more from it and it looks like that is the general response from most viewers. I'm not going to say to pass on it because it really isn't a bad movie, but I reserve myself from recommending it also.
What I like most about Bret Easton Ellis's satires is the way he takes generic conventions with which we are all familiar, like the serial killer genre in American Psycho and the college rumpus genre a la Animal House in Rules of Attraction, and uses these basic tropes as fodder for his critiques. Here, we all know these characters before we start the film: Sean is the attractive but troubled player, Paul is a gay man in a straight man's world, and Lauren is the quirky, attractive girl looking for the right guy to lose her virginity to. We've seen this before. But in Ellis's hands, the satiric exaggeration becomes how oppressively shallow each trope/character is. When Sean uses the word "love," we can't help but realize how of his actions belie the seriousness that word deserves. And the line "You will never know me" is so true because there is nothing to know. Ellis's point is that here, in college, where these characters are supposed to be expanding their minds and discovering themselves and their place in the world, they're ultimately merely layering on the lies. It is important to note that the only professor we see asks a student for a blow job -- not exactly the life of learning that parents think they're footing the bill for.
I also liked Roger Avary's direction. There are moments when the film reverses, sharp cuts, lightning-fast dialogue, and an inventive and effective use of split screen. All of it was consistent with the fast-paced, drug-addled life these characters are living.
I did think the film slowed down in the second act, and some of the party scenes became more about shock than advancing the story.
Overall, Rules of Attraction is a valuable satire about college life. If you watch it and like it, you might also want to check out Tom Wolfe's book I Am Charlotte Simmons.
Like the plot description says, from beginning to end it has "drugs, blow jobs, pornography, booze, rape, masturbation, beatings, suicide, attempted suicide, faked suicide, loss of bladder control" and more and I just don't feel things are like that.
[font=Arial][color=darkred]While Ellis' source material is empty, echoing the collegiate friendships bonded over substances or social lubricants, Avary does his best to represent the dazed world of college. Not the Tara Reid-integrated college of 'Van Wilder' mind you.[/color][/font]
[font=Arial][color=darkred]We open with Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon) getting coldly deflowered by some drunk "townie" while the film buff she had her eyes on videotapes it. She's just broken up with the bisexual and apathetic Paul (Ian Somerhalder), and both are interested in the dealing sociopath Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek), a self-described emotional vampire.[/color][/font]
[font=Arial][color=darkred]Lauren keeps a picture book of venereal diseases to ward her from her wayward sexual urges. Her roommate Lara (Jessica Biel) needs no such book. Our introduction of Lara has her dancing down a hall, liquor bottle in each fist, bedding an entire sports team.[/color][/font]
[font=Arial][color=darkred]Some attractions connect, many don't. But the fun is watching the characters interact in their own seedy, yet often hilarious ways.[/color][/font]
[font=Arial][color=darkred]The best thing that 'The Rules of Attraction' has going for it is its about-face, against type casting. The film is populated with the WB's lineup of clear-skinned goody-two-shoes getting a chance to cut loose. Van Der Beek broods like a predatory hawk and bursts with spontaneous rage. Biel sexes it up as a cocaine-addicted harlot who asks if she's "anorexic skinny" or "bulimic skinny." Even Fred-'Wonder-Years'-Savage shows up briefly to shoot up between his toes! We're along way from the creek, Dawson Leary.[/color][/font]
[font=Arial][color=darkred]The adults of this world are no better than the kids. Eric Stoltz has an extended cameo of a duplicitous professor offering a higher GPA if any coeds are willing to go down on their morals. Swoosie Kurtz and Faye Dunaway show us that pill-popping dither heads will breed drug-addled teenagers.[/color][/font]
[font=Arial][color=darkred]'Attraction' may have the most disturbing suicide ever witnessed in film. After having her advances rejected a woman slips into the bathtub, razor in hand. The scene is as unsettling as it is because the camera hangs on the poor woman's face every second and we gradually see the life spill out of her.[/color][/font]
[font=Arial][color=darkred]Some of Avary's surface artifice works perfectly, like Victor's whirlwind account of an entire semester in Europe. Some of the visual fireworks are distractions to the three-person narrative but the film is always alive with energy, even when depressing you.[/color][/font]
[font=Arial][color=darkred]What 'The Rules of Attraction' does get right is the irrational nature of attraction. Each character is trying to fill an inaccessible void with what they think is love, but will often settle for sex, drugs, or both.[/color][/font]
[font=Arial][color=darkred]'The Rules of Attraction' is made up of unlikable, miserable characters that effectively do nothing but find new ways to be miserable. It constantly straddles the line of exploitation and excess but maintains its footing. The movie is entirely vapid but it is indeed an indulgently fun yet depraved ride. If you're looking for degeneracy instead of life affirmation, then 'The Rules of Attraction' is your meal ticket.[/color][/font]
[font=Arial][color=darkred]Nate's Grade: B- [/color][/font]