The Rules of Attraction (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner18/03/2003

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 110 mins

Stylish, impressive and darkly funny, with a surprising performance from James ‘Dawson’ Van Der Beek.

With the ensuing bout of Tarantino Fever that followed the release of Pulp Fiction, it was often forgotten that Roger Avary was credited as co-author of the screenplay, to the point where many people wondered who the ‘other guy on stage’ was when Tarantino won the screenwriting Oscar. His first film as director, the disappointing heist thriller Killing Zoë didn’t do him any favours either, profile-wise or otherwise. However, with The Rules of Attraction, Avary has finally emerged as a director to be reckoned with.

Sex, Drugs And Irresponsible Behaviour

The film is based on the 1980s novel by Bret Easton Ellis, who also wrote American Psycho. It’s set at ‘Camden College’ in New England and the film mostly takes place amidst the endless round of drug, alcohol and sex-fuelled parties along themes such as the Dress To Get Screwed Party or the End of the World Party. James ‘Dawson’ Van Der Beek stars as Sean Bateman (brother of American Psycho’s Patrick), the campus drug dealer, who starts receiving anonymous love letters and believes they’re from Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), a girl he develops a crush on.

Lauren, however, is saving herself for Victor (Kip Pardue), who is currently shagging his way around Europe, blissfully unaware that she exists. Meanwhile bi-sexual Paul (Ian Somerhalder), - Lauren’s ex-boyfriend, though this is barely referred to - has constant fantasies about Sean…

Avary’s direction is extremely impressive – although he employs several directorial tricks, it never feels like showing off and frequently brings something new to the film. The central trick is to continually rewind to a certain point at one of the parties while introducing the three main characters, a trick which sounds irritating but works well on screen. Similarly, the split-screen technique is given a new lease of life during an extended sequence that follows both Sean and Lauren individually to class, only to have the two screens merge into one when they finally meet face to face.

In addition to this, there is a breathtaking, fantastic, four minute sequence of Victor on holiday in Europe, rapidly cut together from almost 70 hours of digital camera footage and delivered in a quick-paced deadpan monotone. (This sequence actually received a spontaneous round of applause when the film screened at the London Film Festival last year).

Frequently Funny But Dark As Hell

Although the film is frequently very funny, it is also very dark and this should in no way be confused with the ‘dumb teen sex comedy’ genre. It’s not all laughs, either – one scene in particular shows a particularly graphic suicide. It’s an extremely powerful and shocking sequence but one that is definitely hard to sit through and not for the squeamish.

The cast are, for the most part, excellent. Van Der Beek (who’d already shown a willingness to poke fun at himself in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) relishes the chance to play the anti-Dawson and turns in a dark, scowling, angry performance that perfectly captures his character. And, oh yes, he’s also shown masturbating, doing drugs, sitting on the toilet, kissing Ian Somerhalder and punching a girl in the face. Though not all at once, obviously.

Somerhalder, a relative unknown, is excellent too, though Paul’s story seems to peter out halfway through the film after an amusing meeting with his mother (Faye Dunaway) and a drunken friend. As for Shannyn Sossamon (awful in A Knight’s Tale, annoying in 40 Days and 40 Nights), she’s not bad here although her giggling becomes irritating after a while.

There are a couple of gems in the supporting cast too, notably Eric Stoltz as a sleazy college lecturer and Fred ‘The Wonder Years’ Savage as one of Sean’s customers who dozily shoots up between his toes.

To sum up, then, The Rules of Attraction is an engaging film that somehow manages to bypass the fact that none of its characters are actually all that likeable. It’s extremely well acted, with a terrific soundtrack and there’s more than enough here to make Avary’s next film something to look forward to. Recommended.

Film Trailer

The Rules of Attraction (18)
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Content updated: 22/10/2017 22:11

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