Thursday, May 28, 2009

Defensive Cinema #2: The Rules of Attraction (2002)

Defensive Cinema is a series devoted to films seemingly dismissed by the greater population. And me getting all defensive like and telling you why my opinions hold more water than yours.

How does youth get so jaded? Bad shrooms, contracting mono at the "Pre-Saturday Night Party Party," and sex with a film major. That's how.

"I actually lost my virginity to a townie! This wouldn't have happened with Victor. He would have taken me gently in his big, strong, drama major arms and undressed me quietly and expertly. Taken my bra off with grace and ease. And it probably wouldn't have hurt. I should have given myself to Victor last term when I had the chance. I always knew it was going to be like this..."


Roger Avary's The Rules of Attraction is a sorely underrated film, but then it's not exactly asking anyone to like it. In fact if you showed any direct interest in it, it would probably use you, toss you aside and steal a twenty from your wallet - just to snort a line of coke with it.

It wholly manages to transcend a tired genre: the dire (and usually more cheerful) college movie. But in the hands of writer Bret Easton Ellis we can ensure there will be fewer sorority sagas, revenging nerds, and "where do we go from here?" monologues -- even with a cast composed of 7th Heaven and Dawson's Creek veterans. Ellis's novel is a warped wasteland of sex, drugs, and suicidal thoughts (sounds more like college, right?), and a tricky layering of interconnected characters experiencing some major disconnect. What they desire is fruitless but essential, void but consuming and... well who really gives a fuck as long as you're getting laid? Amidst the constant stream of parties and tapped kegs, there exists Sean, Paul, Lauren, and the rest of the Camden graduating class. America's bright future is buzzed and burnt out.

The film adaptation's mediocre reputation seems to come from the expectation that all this sex-fueled disillusionment is meant to be shocking, when really that's inconsequential to characters driven by impulse and a moment's desire... or any genuine emotion for that matter. What people seem to ultimately dismiss is a stylish and funny film with crass and cruel characters that might have more reflection than they're willing to admit. Attraction is dangerous business after all - hence the rules. And fans of Ellis should know this is his most tonally succinct adaptation, even if it's less of a cinematic success than American Psycho.

The ensemble seems surprisingly up to snuff. Shannyn Sossamon as Lauren makes a striking turn that's yet to be followed up in her career (unless you were particularly moved by the remake of One Missed Call). She finds the gravitas in a character with very little, and the sexy humor in someone that reads up on venereal diseases to prep for her dates. And James Van Der Beek hardly gives us the varsity blues either, with a performance that works even better in his most inexpressive moments. Lest we forget Sean is brother to Patrick Bateman, so we should expect there's something special (and especially psychotic) behind that slightly blank pretty face.

If there's one thing I'm not so attracted to it's the subplot involving Sean's dopey dalliances with a drug dealer. They feel out of step with the sardonic misery and malaise of the rest of the film; like discarded threads of Avary's Pulp Fiction past, or a poorly timed echo of the "Sister Christian" scene from Boogie Nights. But ultimately they don't detract from the film's purposefully scatterbrained feel, which includes stellar cameos from the pill poppin' duo of Swoosie Kurtz and Faye Dunaway, and an appearance by Fred Savage on clarinet... and heroin. Secondary characters each get their moment to shine, including two seemingly separate stories that threaten to steal the whole movie. One: the infamous Victor's tour-de-force tour of Europe, told in a smutty and sensational four minutes. And two: dinner with Richard... err, "DICK!"

So it begs the question: what exactly ARE the rules of attraction? The best I could surmise was this:

Rule 1 of 1: If you can't contain your attraction, contain it with a soft feather pillow...

...or a soft rendition of "Afternoon Delight":

After all, it's hardly skyrockets in flight for the characters of The Rules of Attraction. Lonely, one-sided emptiness ultimately lost in translation between two separate entities. That is until the one rare glimmer of a connection that forever keeps them looking.

In the end some would rather die than find themselves without the one they desire. Others should just find solace in their lack of STD's.

"Victor was fucking my roommate Lara. She gave him mono before he dumped her. I'm told that later, after I left Camden, she got really drunk and went wandering through Windham House and did the whole football team. She's now married to a senator and has four kids. How time sorts things."

No comments: