2003 TOP 10 — Number 7
THE SHAPE OF THINGS (Neil LaBute, USA)
You like Neil LaBute or you don’t. THE SHAPE OF THINGS is didactic. It is mathematical. It is choppy. There is no middle ground. His art is true or it is hateful. All art that isn’t true should be destroyed because it is hateful. The actors don’t say the words. They recite their dialogue. Every shot is framed and can only be framed that way because that is the only way it would be true. Any other way would be false. And thus bad.
THE SHAPE OF THINGS, La Bute’s third film based on his own original script (after IN THE COMPANY OF MEN and YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS), is about a feminist art student (Rachel Weisz) who snares a nerdy museum security guard (Paul Rudd) and, without ever exactly “making” him, gets him to improve himself, in terms of his wardrobe, his weight, and … eventually … more. There’s another couple in the film, who have their doubts about this relationship. And a fascination with it.
Part of this film’s greatness lies in Weisz’s performance of La Bute’s self-consciously clipped and mannered dialogue, back after a break for NURSE BETTY and POSSESSION. She is playing a character who *is* this overdetermined style. If you’ve seen David Mamet’s OLEANNA, you have a general idea of the kind of role she has — Debra Eisenstadt has a similar role, of a campus feminist, in that movie. Only Weisz is much better than Eisenstadt — with more conviction in herself and the incantations she is reciting, but without skimping on this manipulated/manipulating style.
In describing this film and LaBute’s other work as mannered and artificial and stagy (it is all these things), I fear I may be turning people off of this movie more than on to it, and I wouldn’t dispute anyone who says this material worked better as the stage play it originally was (there is not even a token attempt even to “air out” the play … 10 dialogue scenes are essentially played before some naturalistic backgrounds). THE SHAPE OF THINGS is also a movie that really demands to be seen twice or not at all — not because it’s difficult or incoherent — but because some things happen in the third act that recode the whole movie and even alters the kind of film we’ve been seeing.
But LaBute’s style, worldview and vision is too distinctive not to treasure — how many American movies would have a line like “What ‘Take Back the Night’ rally did you find *her* at?” without explicitly coding the speaking character as hateful and the woman in question as oppressed. he’s an authentic prophet against the era and the world that exists, although it’s not yet clear in the name of what. Indeed, one of the things about the ending is that it casts doubt on rummaging through an artist’s work for windows into his soul. And his Slate diary from a few months ago gave me the impression that LaBute considers the whole idea of artist biography to be contemptible. But in his films’ caustic misanthropy and contempt for contemporary mores (though not their formal style), we may have an American Bunuel on our hands.
No comments yet.