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The Shape of Things - Preview

Preview by: Jack Foley

FOLLOWING the relative disappointment of his last film, Possession, the provocative writer/director Neil LaBute returns with another dark piece, aimed at the continuing battle between the sexes.

Adapted from the stage play of the same name (and featuring the same cast), The Shape of Things finds Paul Rudd's archetypal nerd, Adam (complete with glasses, a mop of hair, little dress sense and that necessary awkwardness), suddenly finding himself being chased by Rachel Weisz's sexy art student, Evelyn.

The two begin a relationship, during which Adam allows Evelyn to give him a complete makeover (including a nose job!), before she finally asks him to ditch his two best friends, played by Gretchen Mol and Frederick Weller).

The movie played at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and drew favourable responses, with Geoffrey Gilmore noting, on the official Sundance website, that The Shape of Things finds 'LaBute unabashedly creating another film about the war between the sexes' which 'is a magnificent triumph of artistic vision and gut-wrenching catharsis, one of the independent film world's great viewing pleasures'.

He adds: "Cast brilliantly and performed at the highest level, this tale of college youth seeking fulfillment in all the meaning of that word is exceptionally theatrical in style, self-consciously so, for the play's the thing, you know."

Best described as a quirky variation on the Pygmalion theme, LaBute's stage version of the film received its world debut in the West End in May 2001, before transferring to Broadway.

Of its cast, the most notable must surely be Rudd, who has won himself a new legion of fans following his winning extended turn as Phoebe's boyfriend in Friends.

Weisz, too, continues to build a strong name for herself in Hollywood, away from the blockbusters, having opened in the critically-acclaimed Confidence just a few weeks earlier.


US critical reaction

Critics in America were divided over the merits of LaBute's latest. Fans of his previous work, such as Your Friends and Neighbours, hailed a return to barbed form, while those that remain sceptical about the writer's views on relationships, felt that the movie was a shallow experience.

Leading the way, however, is LA Weekly, which hailed it as 'may be [LaBute's] best, cruelest, most vital act of confrontation yet'.

Rolling Stone, meanwhile, predicted that it will 'make you hoot, holler, curse the actors, damn LaBute and argue like hell with your date'. awarded it four and a half out of five and wrote that it is 'bitingly dark and a lot of fun', while the Chicago Sun-Times declared that 'LaBute has that rarest of attributes, a distinctive voice'.

Less convinced, however, was Entertainment Weekly, which awarded it only a C+, and concluded that it was 'didactic rather than enigmatic', while the New York Post felt it was 'a very well-acted - but psychologically superficial - comedy about people's obsession with looks'. It awarded it two out of four.

Premiere magazine, meanwhile, went one worse, stating that 'the characters don't seem to be people as much as they are stand-ins for ideas', while the Boston Phoenix opined that 'boredom, laced with a sporting curiosity about what kind of unpleasantness impends, is … [an] appropriate … response to the stunted souls who haunt LaBute's campus'.

USA Today was similarly sparing in its praise, stating that 'though the writing is often sharp, one is reminded repeatedly by the actors' theatrical delivery of some lines.'

But the positives largely outnumbered the negatives, with Variety stating that 'this adaptation of LaBute's 2001 play provides a queasy investigation of male-female relations that ends with a satisfying shudder of recognition at the extreme cruelty possible within human relationships, particularly those conceived by Neil LaBute'.

The Houston Chronicle, however, offered the most interesting view, stating that 'you walk out feeling and thinking differently than when you walked in. Isn't that what art is supposed to do?"

Viewers can decide for themselves when the film opens in UK cinemas later this year.



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