The Shape of Things (2003)
Written and Directed by Neil LaBute
Last night I had the first of many movie nights with a couple of my friends. I got to make the first choice of what movie to watch and I chose LaBute's film adaptation of his own play The Shape of Things. The story is a classic LaBute tale about the dangers and pratfalls of relationships. Adam (Paul Rudd) and Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) meet cute at the museum where he works. Allow me to take this opportunity to point out how much I love the Adam and Eve elements of this story, and the play on their names works well. She's a grad student at the local college they both attend working on her Art Thesis, and he's an aimless undergrad, so of course the two start dating. What follows is a treatise on the manner in which two people in love with one another work to change each other and themselves in an attempt to be perfect.
I love this story, but I don't necessarily believe it's the best movie. The storytelling lacks subtlety and finesse. At times the characters feel less like people and more like talking heads concerned with conveying the grander elements of LaBute's point. But that's to take nothing away from the performances of Rudd and Weisz which carry the film through some of it's more awkwardly pedantic moments. The same cannot be said for co-stars Gretchen Mol and Fredrick Weller, but their characters exist to serve a very specific purpose and little more.
What works about the story is that LaBute's hyperbole is still highly entertaining and the message he's working so hard to get across is important and fascinating. The story not only brings up interesting issues about adult relationships, but it also has a lot to say about the nature of Art and the responsibilities/moral code of the artist.
Sometimes the method of the storytelling can be flawed. The dialogue, while fast and furious, is pedantic and more message based than character based. There are times when the film feels static as it tries to maintain the general feel it had on the stage. One of the elements of adaptation is that you can usually break free of some of the shackles imposed by the original medium, but LaBute seems more interested in maintaing the spacial integrity of the original work than making changes to suit the new medium. It's not a bad choice to make, per se, but it can leave you with a feeling that you're watching a play with better sets than an actual movie. But in spite of the flaws in the storytelling, when a story is strong, the experience of engaging with it will be entertaining and fulfilling. Such is the case with this film by one of my favorite contemporary minds.