The Shape of Things

'Moralists have no place in an art gallery.'   Han Suyin

Adam (Paul Rudd, "The Cider House Rules") is a sweet nebbish, working his way through school.  About to go off shift as a guard at Mercy College's art museum, Adam discovers Evelyn (Rachel Weisz, "About a Boy") suspiciously regarding the statue of a male nude from the wrong side of the velvet rope.  Adam's attempts to oust Evelyn are ineffectual and she wins him over to her cause - to spray paint back the genitals a prudish community have obscured on the original with a cement fig leaf.  As Evelyn points out, they just don't like "The Shape of Things."

Laura's Review: C

Writer/director Neil Labute returns to his nasty habits after a foray into romance ("Possession") with this female counterpart to his breakthrough film, "In the Company of Men," but his return to his roots feels like a retread. There are no surprises to be had in "The Shape of Things," which telegraphs its twist ending in its first ten minutes.

Once Adam's surprised himself by successfully getting Evelyn out on a date (she spray paints her number on the lining of his beloved corduroy jacket), his next impulse is to show her off to his best friend Philip (Frederick Weller, "The Business of Strangers") and his fiancée Jenny (Gretchen Mol, "Rounders"). They're amazed at her unconventionality and Philip's
sudden weight loss and hipper hairstyle. Philip makes it known that he won Jenny over Adam, who was too timid to act, in a macho counterstrike which makes Adam and Jenny uncomfortable but merely interests Evelyn. When conversation turns to the recent vandalism at the museum, though, the evening turns disastrous with Evelyn stomping out after a heated exchange with Philip.

Evelyn's influence continues to be displayed in Adam as his glasses are replaced by contacts and his wardrobe becomes stylish. Philip is aghast but Jenny, who is clearly more suited to Adam, is attracted. Evelyn forces a confrontation which shatters the group dynamic, then reassembles them for her surprising graduate art thesis exhibit.

Labute could be commenting upon his own work with his central theme of cruelty excused by the production of art, but his argument here is unconvincing because there is no evidence of art in his penultimate scene. Labute hasn't rid his film adaptation of his Broadway play of its staginess, particularly in his failure to reign in Rudd's playing to the rafters. Evelyn's
dialogue drips more symbolic portent than naturalism and the film's forward jumps in time feel like breaks between acts. Sets and exterior locations are claustrophobic and cinematography (James L. Carter, "Tuck Everlasting") follows suit. The
dandy soundtrack consists of nicely chosen Elvis Costello songs, whose lyrics are stronger than the action they comment upon.

Paul Rudd's Adam is a sweet character but he blunts his believability by ladling on the actorly ticks too heavily. Weisz, whose Evelyn is at turns confrontational and condescendingly disingenuous ('A Cosmo test? Now you're getting scientific on me.'), is more a device than a character, a sociopathic artist the writer invests with an understanding of human nature. Better are Gretchen Mol, the actress who never became the 'It girl' a Vanity Fair cover article pronounced, and Frederick Weller, both reprising their roles from the play (as are Weisz and Rudd). Mol brings a simple sweetness to Jenny while Weller does
a pitch perfect turn on the snide frat boy who likes his friends better unequal to his own cool.

Labute gives us an intriguing moment in the movie's final moments. Adam confronts Evelyn in a manner directly opposite that of the opening scene and Evelyn relents slightly, giving Adam the gift of the truth of something she once whispered to him. But what does this mean? The possibility is interesting, but in the end it's a bluff.

Robin's Review: C-

Timid Adam (Paul Rudd), a part time museum guard and student at Mercy College, meets his match one day when he confronts art school grad, Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), as she prepares to deface a statue in the museum. He is immediately smitten with the spirited young woman and they start to date. In pretty short order she is "suggesting" that he make improvements to himself - trade his nerdy glasses for contacts, lose weight, exercise, get a haircut, have his nose fixed and get rid of his prized corduroy jacket. But, there is a method to these changes as Evelyn works on Adam to alter "The Shape of Things."

Director/writer Neil LaBute gives us a gender-bending version of his wicked debut film, "In the Company of Men," but unfortunately "The Shape of Things" does not have the power and sheer angst of his debut work. The premise for "Shape" is based on the relationship between sexy, dynamic and domineering Evelyn and dowdy, chubby nebbish Adam. This is where the problem lay. Unless she has an ulterior motive (which she obviously must have) there is no way that a sexy, smart chick like Evelyn would have anything to do with such an indecisive lunk as Adam - unless, as I said, there is a less than savory reason for her attentions.

The two begin dating and, almost immediately, Adam follows her suggestions to improve. These drastic changes soon come under the scrutiny of Adam's former roommate, the acerbic Phillip (Fred Weller), and his pretty fiancée Jenny (Gretchen Mol), and they question the alterations. But, like a freight train, Evelyn is hard to stop and Adam, a follower and not a leader, sticks up for his girlfriend's overt influence. But, the new Adam has become a bit of a hunk because of the metamorphosis and a long-ago attraction between him and Jenny is rekindled, causing friction in the relationships of the two couples. Things come to a head when we learn the true meaning of Evelyn's mission to change Adam and her work is made all too public.

The problems I have with "The Shape of Things" stems from several things. Helmer LaBute, aside from switching the gender of the bad guy, offers nothing new in this clone of "In the Company of Men." The difference, plot-wise, is the conspiracy between the men to denigrate their female victim is replaced by the "lone gunman" character of Evelyn who is operating under her own, private agenda. While Aaron Eckhart's Chad, in "ITCOM," is a despicable cad - the kind of guy you love to hate - Evelyn comes across as a smart, self-centered brat who is simply used to getting her way, regardless of the impact on those around her.

There is also no real emotional investment for the viewer with the characters in "The Shape of Things," with the exception of a charming and likable performance by Gretchen Mol. There is no reason to like or identify with Evelyn. Adam has little, if any, appeal and Phillip is too acrimonious to give the character any dimension. LaBute's script telegraphs its intent early on as Evelyn repeatedly states that she is a graduate art student working on her thesis, but since all she seems to do is change Adam's looks then....

Overall, I came out of "The Shape of Things" with a feeling of ambivalence toward the main characters. There are no surprises and the cast (again, with the exception of Mol) does nothing to make me empathize with the principles.