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After viewing The Rules of Attraction, one can definitely see how Roger Avary and Quentin Tarantino were friends. Upon leaving their jobs as video store clerks, the two went out and did Reservoir Dogs together, before collaborating on Pulp Fiction. Tarantino took all the credit for those two movies, basically striking Avary out of Dogs completely and only giving him story credit for Pulp. With Rules of Attraction, one sees that there was probably more influence on both films. While this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel contains many clichéd style maneuvers, they all work effectively in telling the tale. Multiple uses of rewind, spilt screen, and the re-showing of events could have been a drastic failure of cheap trickery with less able hands. Here, though, Avary shows some skill and uses everything to further advance a complicated tapestry of storylines and encounters from the stellar cast of young up-and-comers.

This is a story about a weekend of college partying at Camden. We have co-eds of all grades, races, and sexual orientation weaving in and out of each other’s lives, going from party to party, having altercations, conversations, and a lot of casual sex. James Van Der Beek is actually really quite good breaking out of his good boy image from WB-fare casting. His performance really makes me wish his sanitized image didn’t warrant Todd Solondz from cutting his arc from the disturbingly good Storytelling. Shannon Sossamon does admirably as the confused girl rooming with a slut, doing drugs, but wanting to stay pure for the man of her dreams. It is this conflicting nature that runs rampant throughout each character’s existence. The dry, cynical humor prevalent in another Ellis adaptation, American Psycho, carries through here as well. Without so much satire from that film, Rules reaches an absurdity at times that makes you think back to your college days and the craziness and emotional stupidity you remember seeing from those surrounding you.

I give Avary a lot of credit for his sense of detail too. The soundtrack enhances each scene, where it is used, effectively, most noticeably with the hilarious juxtaposition of Ian Somerhalder and Russell Sams dancing and lip-synching to a George Michael song on a hotel bed with their mothers in the dining hall swapping prescription drugs between sips of vodka. Little scenes like seeing a suicide being lifted into an ambulance, students crying all around, with a girl hitting on one of the police officers in the foreground are brilliant. Avary makes the viewer never take a break as there is no telling what he/she might miss. Also, the casting choices are superb in every instance. Clifton Collins Jr. is menacingly funny as a drug supplier, Eric Stoltz creepily spot-on in a small role, Faye Dunaway hamming it up in the aforementioned hotel dining scene, and Fred Savage in a gem of a cameo.

Even when you think the gimmicks are through, and we have linear storyline normality, we are treated to a fast-paced recap of Kip Pardue’s character’s trip to Europe. The matter-of-fact nature in which the sequence is narrated during its quick cut montage is great. Supposedly this footage was edited into a bridge film called Gliterrati, to connect Rules to a future film adaptation of Ellis’ Glamorama. Unfortunately it has not been released in its full form and Glamorama has been removed from Avary’s slate of upcoming films. Either way, The Rules of Attraction allows for the hope that we will see more Ellis-based films. If nothing else I can’t wait to break into the collection of his works sitting unopened on my bookshelf, waiting to be read for the past year or so.

The Rules of Attraction 9/10

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photography:
[1] James Van Der Beek and Ian Somerhalder in Roger Avary’s drama/romance The Rules of Attraction, also starring Jessica Biel, Kip Pardue, Shannyn Sossamon and Kate Bosworth – 2002
[2] Shannyn Sossamon and Jessica Biel in Roger Avary’s The Rules of Attraction, also starring James Van Der Beek, Kate Bosworth, and Kip Pardue – 2002

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