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THE RULES OF ATTRACTION ,2002
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THE RULES OF ATTRACTION POSTERTHE RULES OF ATTRACTION, 2002
Movie Reviews

Directed by Roger Avary

Starring: James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel & Ian Somerhalder
Review by Benjamin Lupinetti


SYNOPSIS:

Three college students get together and fall apart over the course of a semester, and get an education in the difference between love and attraction.

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REVIEW:

Based on Bret Easton Ellisí novel of the same name, The Rules of Attraction attempts to deliver the bookís bleak message. Itís a story about longing, loss, mixed signals and desperation, but most of all itís an indictment of what we know about love. The case that the filmmakers are stating, which Ellis expressed in greater length in his book, is that love is almost never really love. Once we get past that initial attraction to another person, we find out thereís nothing to keep us with them, and if, as is typical, we are unwilling to work at the relationship, it will die a pitiful death. So itís a terrific movie to put on when youíre trying to get your party guests to go home (I would also recommend putting a Toby Keith album on the stereo).

The story centers on three students at the fictional Camden College in New Hampshire. Thereís part-time drug dealer Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek), sexually frustrated art student Lauren Hynde (Shannyn Sossamon), and bi-sexual sometimes-romantic and Laurenís ex, Paul Denton (Ian Somerhalder). The film opens with these characters at an end of the year party, and any hopes of a happy ending are effectively dashed as we glimpse the fallout of relationships that all crumbled. Itís made immediately clear that having gone through hell with and because of each other, none of them has any strong feelings about the despair theyíve suffered and continue to suffer, but rather exude acceptance of a sad fact of life. These young people have learned what everyone learns sooner or later, except for the sort of people that have made Matthew McConaughey romantic comedies a veritable industry unto itself.

Time jumps back to the beginning of the semester and we see how everyoneís story unfolds. Lauren pines for her boyfriend Victor who hasnít called or written since he ran off to Europe for a few months. A virgin, Lauren is saving herself for Victorís return and wards off sexual desire with a book of pictures of venereal diseases (which totally works, by the way). But itís not enough to stop her developing a small crush on the very handsome, reputed scumbag drug dealer Sean Bateman, who instantly forms an attachment to her. Bateman really has no reason to be so infatuated with Lauren, since the meat of their relationship amounts to a brief conversation over the class they share. But therein lies the beauty (or perhaps, the ugliness) of attraction: it hits you at random and makes you think crazy thoughts, like a bad case of syphilis (p. 34 in Laurenís nifty book).

Seanís infatuation with Lauren is bolstered by the anonymous love letters Sean receives in his mailbox, he believes, from Lauren. Then along comes Paul to form yet another corner in the developing love polygon; Paul gets the impression that Sean is attracted to him, but thatís only a miscommunication over talk of getting Mexican food (ďquesadillaĒ sounds a lot like ďkiss and feel youĒ). Sean remains fixated on Lauren and relishes receiving her love letters, while Paul has to suffer the humiliation of bending over backwards for someone he likes, only to be completely ignored. I know, I know, it sounds like a crappy summer rom-com, but bear with me.

What results is a painful series of missed connections. Paul lusts after Sean only to get snubbed again and again; Sean fantasizes about Lauren and builds her up in his head until heís convinced that he loves her; and Lauren continues to pine after Victor, who we can see from a particularly entertaining sequence of his adventures in Europe, doesnít remember she exists. The characters engage in their futile advances on one another without an inkling that theyíre doomed to disappointment and disillusionment, like a child attempting to gain super powers by ingesting everything in his chemistry set. At times itís painful to see how much a simple misunderstanding can hurt someone, and the toll it takes on someone to quietly suffer while the one person they want just walks on by.

That certainly seemed to be what Ellis was getting at in his novel, thereby continuing his streak of being the most depressing author since Tennessee Williams; and for the most part, the filmmakers succeed in transposing this to the screen. Certainly the film does the book a few favors, such as the sequence summing up Victorís months in Europe, the caustic visuals and snappy editing of which burst into an exciting five minute montage accompanied by Victorís exact, manic narration from the text. On the other hand, compressing the novel into a shooting script caused a good 30 or 40% of the text to be excised. The same ideas get across, but the slow degradation of these relationships and the weight with which each characterís private despair weighs on them canít play as strongly and convey the same feelings in a time span tailored to the crowds of kids at the theaters every weekend (can you tell this one was a box office smash?)

Still, the film effectively conveys itís central idea that romance is dead, and that it dies for some quite early. While one might feel that this is exclusively the fate of disaffected, over-privileged New Englanders, thatís over-looking the universality of the heartbreak and disappointment these particular disaffected, over-privileged New Englanders suffer. One way in which the story works better in print than in film is that the characters are faceless. The Lauren, Sean and Paul of the novel are each practically anonymous to us, and in that way they represent ourselves, or at least someone we know, and thatís a sad fact worth meditating on for an hour and 45 minutes.

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