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Rules of Attraction - First look & US reaction



Preview by: Jack Foley

FROM the corrupt minds that brought you American Psycho and Pulp Fiction, comes another ultra-controversial movie - this time tackling the taboo issues of sex and drugs.

Rules of Attraction is yet another cinema adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis novel (the author of American Psycho), and is directed by Roger Avary.

It is notable for several reasons - firstly, the furore surrounding the release of its initial teaser poster; secondly, for having squeaky-clean teen idols such as James Van Der Beek (of Dawson's Creek) and Shannyn Sossamon (A Knight's Tale and 40 Days and 40 Nights) tarnishing their nice images; and, thirdly, for daring to take on the censors and win.

But first, the poster. It featured a number of cuddly toys in various sexual positions and was immediately labelled offensive by the MPAA, who called for its withdrawal.

Not content with slamming the artwork, however, the MPAA went to task on the content of the movie, which follows four college students through a harrowing term filled with drugs, alcohol, casual sex and violence.

Of particular concern was a 'not entirely consensual' gang-rape sequence, involving Sossamon's character, while other issues of contention were the full-frontal nudity, excessive drug-taking and violent sex on show.

Avary remains unrepentent, however, despite having to send the film back to the censors four times. Even then, he only just managed to secure an R rating in America, and accused the people who deliver ratings of failing to understand how film works. He thinks true 'self-regulation' of films should be carried out by the actual producers of the movies themselves, rather than 'a special-interests lobby financed by the big studios'.

Commenting on the rape scene itself, Avary still feels that the original cut had more power, suggesting that the scene now fails to turn people off; while talking about the rest of the film as 'comparatively tame'.

As for Van Der Beek, the actor is delighted with his performance as the drug-dealing, bed-hopping Sean Bateman, who is also prone to nose picking, masturbation and attempted suicide in his attempt to find true love with Sossamon's equally flirty Lauren Hynde.

He told Entertainment Weekly, during its fall movie preview, that 'as far as his being likable, I wasn't concerned, because I don't think he is. I can't play someone who is completely unredeemable'.

Anyone expecting a more grown-up version of American Pie, however, had best be warned. Avary, himself, describes it as 'Pulp Fiction meets The Graduate - masquerading as American Pie', while movie website Dark Horizons sums it up as a 'poignant, hilarious take on the death of romance'.

 

US reaction

The Boston Globe leads the way by warning that 'casual moviegoers who stumble into Rules expecting a slice of American Pie hijinks starring the kid from Dawson's Creek' will 'probably run out screaming', while the Los Angeles Times said that 'it makes sense that he [Avary] went back to school to check out the girls - his film is a frat boy's idea of a good time'.

Not all of the reviews were scathing, however, for The Rules of Attraction left critics divided between those who felt it was tacky and reprehensible and those who applauded its ability to tackle such controversial issues in such an assured manner.

Entertainment Weekly, meanwhile, awarded it a B+ and write that it 'is the kind of Gen-X-treme, straight-meets-gay, boy-eats-girl bash that the artless show-off Gregg Araki (''The Doom Generation'') has been trying to bring off for years; it's a party-hearty teen flick that scalds like acid'.

Village Voice also commented favourably, saying that 'Avary's crisp adaptation imbues the copious bad sex and general befuddlement of Bret Easton Ellis's solemn, echt '80s Bennington novel with a playfully obnoxious energy that is often funny and ... almost fun', while the San Francisco Examiner wrote that 'it's secondary to American Psycho but still has claws enough to get inside you and stay there for a couple of hours'.

The Chicago Tribune, however, referred to it as 'a bravura exercise in emptiness', while the New York Post opined that 'even if the enticing prospect of a lot of nubile young actors in a film about campus depravity didn't fade amid the deliberate, tiresome ugliness, it would be rendered tedious by Avary's failure to construct a story with even a trace of dramatic interest'.

Variety was less scathing, feeling that 'Avary's film never quite emerges from the shadow of Ellis' book', while the New York Times wrote that 'Mr. Avary wants to convince us that his movie's dissipated symbols of late capitalist excess really exist. The harder the movie tries to shock, the shriller it rings'.

The final word, however, goes to the Montreal Film Journal, which states that 'it's having a good time being bad, but it’s nowhere near as edgy as it thinks it is'.

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