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    Rules of Attraction

    Roles of distraction

    The adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's "Rules of Attraction" suffers as its characters' antisocial tendencies are separated from their 1980s context and left dangling as empty gestures.


    "The Rules of Attraction" captures college life through the eyes of the precociously world-weary, but it's not much more than a glossy portrait of excess.

    Directed by: Roger Avary.
    Cast: James Van Der Beek, Ian Somerhalder, Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel, Kip Pardue, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Kate Bosworth, Fred Savage, Eric Stoltz, Clifton Collins Jr., Faye Dunaway, Swoosie Kurtz..

    Related links: Official site
    The students at Camden College are wealthy, good-looking, and unable to connect with anything or anyone but their own disaffection. Fortunately for this self-absorbed group, they have a lot of time to ponder their loneliness and the absurdity of existence. Life on their handsome New England campus is defined not by class schedules but by soirees with nihilistic names like The End of the World. They spend their time getting ready for parties (buying drugs, thinking of whom they'd like to seduce, and so on), partying (doing the drugs, seducing or being rebuffed by the person), and recovering from the repercussions of same. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Of course, this being an adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis book, it is the end of the world, and no one feels fine. These kids are disenchanted, despite their access to opportunity and money. Or maybe they're disenchanted because they are so privileged. This is where director Roger Avary ("Killing Zoe") is unclear. He chose to remove "Rules" from its conspicuous consumption, greed-is-good 1980s setting and leave it unmoored timewise, to the film's detriment. The 1980s were not incidental to these characters, who in this movie come off as youthfully narcissistic at best and spoiled, melodramatic brats at worst.

    Sure, they're not great role models and are hardly inspiring as parents. But that old "my mother never loved me" chestnut is not a sufficient statement on which to hang a film.  

    James Van Der Beek is Sean Bateman, a campus drug dealer and hardened lonelyheart who thinks of women in terms of their fuckability. Until, that is, he meets Lauren Hynde (the waifishly beautiful Shannyn Sossamon). She's a virgin, she's smart, she's nice, and to him she represents purity, something he eagerly desires — though it's hard to relate to that desire when his glumness seems to be entirely of his own making. He's no John Bender, his corollary in "The Breakfast Club," a far more insightful commercial film about alienated kids. Bender teaches his peers (and us) about himself by acting out a typical exchange with father: The old man tells him he's stupid and puts out a cigarette on his arm. If that weren't enough, the principal essentially calls Bender a loser and a waste of humanity. No wonder the kid's angry and rebellious.

    The closest we get to this kind of context in "Rules" is a brief scene with Faye Dunaway and Swoosie Kurtz as parents of, in this order, Paul Denton, a handsome bisexual who can't get no satisfaction, and his ex-lover Dick, who drinks Jack Daniel's from the bottle. (Jay Baruchel has a good time whooping it up in the part.) Dunaway and Kurtz are carefully preserved, expensively dressed, and highly medicated on both pills and booze. Sure, they're not great role models and are hardly inspiring as parents. But that old "my mother never loved me" chestnut is not a sufficient statement on which to hang a film (not if you're trying to make the point in one scene, anyway), nor is it a particularly interesting reflection of a class of people. In fact, it's boringly glib.

    What "Rules" lacks in substance it makes up for in style. Avary presents each student's point of view by literally rewinding key sequences and starting them over from the next person's perspective. It's a groovy trick, with top-notch photography to boot. The performances are strong too. Van Der Beek is especially good as Bateman, channeling an unpredictable rage that is genuinely frightening. This is a guy who, when a suicide attempt fails, settles for strategically smearing his face with fake blood and sprawling corpse-like on his dorm-room bed — and laughs demonically when the object of affection discovers him.

    Van Der Beek is crisply, coldly determined; he seems unstoppable and at times nearly inhuman — not unlike his character's brother, Patrick Bateman, whom Christian Bale embodied so intensely in Mary Harron's stunning adaptation of Ellis' "American Psycho." That director's keen way would have made "Rules" much more than the slice of upscale "American Pie" that it is.

    OCTOBER 26, 2002

    Reader comments on Rules of Attraction:

  • lacking   from ph, Nov 8, 2002
  • NOT LACKING   from lolly, Apr 26, 2003
  • HUH???   from Jay, Jun 27, 2003
  • reality   from filtersweep, Sep 11, 2003
  • Intriguing   from Caitlin, Aug 7, 2003
  • [no subject]   from michelle, Sep 23, 2003
  • the target will love it   from patricia bateman, Dec 10, 2003
  • Rules Of Attraction   from Tricia, Jan 26, 2004
  • The novel   from Ralphie, Mar 10, 2004
  • Re: The novel   from Ian, May 6, 2004
  • Shannyn Sossamon   from di Vincenzo, Nov 24, 2004
  • Ian   from Chloe, Dec 31, 2004
  • [no subject]   from Colleen, Jan 14, 2005
  • hola   from paul, Feb 14, 2005
  • The rules of attraction.   from Duncan Giles, Feb 20, 2005
  • Ian   from Tamara, Mar 29, 2005
  • IAN   from Khleo, Apr 10, 2005
  • Reality???   from Ben Zimmer, Jul 5, 2007

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