The Rules of Attraction Review
American Psycho introduced cinema to the delightfully demented world of Bret Easton Ellis and his rich 80s American wasteland. Its protagonist, Patrick Bateman, redefined mental illness and managed to be one of the most terrifying serial killers in recent memory, but they do say mental illness runs in the family. The Rules of Attraction follows a group of American college students through a semester of mayhem, lots of partying, plenty of drugs, and even more sex, and one of those students just happens to be Patrick’s brother.
Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek) is a student enjoying his college experience, despite being unable to tell you what it is he’s actually studying, and even though he’s a spoiled rich kid he feels the need to supplement his allowance with a bit of drug dealing – ripping off naïve freshmen yet to learn the true value of a gram of cocaine – but he’s really at college for the sex. A party isn’t complete until he’s got wasted and found a beautiful new conquest, but his apparently callous exterior hides something underneath. He’s been receiving love letters, sent anonymously, whispering sweet nothings that might just be causing him to feel for a woman the first time. Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon) has managed to make it through high school, and a significant part of college, remaining a virgin. Her dreams are simple, not wanting to lose her virginity to a random drunk ‘towny’ all she wants is for her beloved Victor (Kip Pardue) to return from Europe and deflower her gently in some horribly romantic setting. Before every party she sits in her room, staring at a book of venereal diseases, desperately trying to suppress her urges long enough for Victor to return. Paul (Ian Somerhalder) is gay, his sexual desires frequently left unsatisfied by the trouble he’s having finding a gorgeous gay guy – or even a drunk enough straight one – to spend the night with. His latest crush, and hopeful closet case, is Sean, but is there really any hope of this emotionless exterior hiding a secret passion for manly love?
Let me begin by saying The Rules of Attraction is not American Psycho 2 (or even 3, as a horrible – near unrelated – sequel has already arrived) despite featuring Patrick’s unbalanced kin the two films are totally different beasts. That said the material carries much of the same black humour, coke snorting rich kids, and general over indulgence that made the previous Ellis adaptation so good. Director Roger Avary (Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction writing partner) has crafted another time bending script to work from, but the extent of its use here goes way beyond the fractured timeline of Pulp Fiction. Beginning at the End of the World (Party) it takes mere minutes before time starts to run backwards, telling one story then rewinding to a point where our protagonists crossed paths, then running forwards again to follow a different path after which the credits roll and we watch 2 days rewind to take us to the beginning of the story. The clever camera effects don’t stop there, in one of the films most impressive sequences we watch Sean and Lauren go about their Saturday mornings before meeting in a shot so impressive it gets its very own making of on the DVD. Not to mention the fantastic tour of Europe we take with Victor, as his entire trip is condensed into one of the most jaw dropping 5 minutes you’ll see on screen all year.
You have to wonder exactly when Roger Avary learned how to direct, his last effort – 1994’s Killing Zoe – was an unspectacular heist movie with little more than average performances and little in the way of originality either in the script or the direction. Here his inventiveness in both those areas is excellent, and he seems to be much more adept at eliciting great performances from his actors. The acting is excellent across the board, with the cast willing to do some extremely brave things in their portrayal of their pleasure-seeking lifestyles. James Van Der Beek in particular has taken on a role as distant from his popular persona as you could imagine, Sean is a manic hedonist, constantly using and abusing drink, drugs and people – Joey would be very disappointed. Shanynn Sossaman, in only her third film, goes further to prove she’s a rising star with real potential enjoying a role that actually requires her to act rather than play a simple romantic object of lust. The supporting cast is also very strong, with Eric Stoltz, Thomas Ian Nicholas and Fred Savage all appearing in nice minor roles, and see if you can pick adult movie legend Ron Jeremy out of the revellers at the Dress to get Screwed party.
Sadly in their wisdom the BBFC have seen fit to remove more than a minute and a half from this DVD release, despite passing the film without cuts for theatrical distribution. The ‘offending’ scene is a disturbing suicide, by means of wrist cutting with a razor blade. In the opinion of the BBFC the method used was both ‘instructional’ and ‘a little known technique’ and so they were forced to remove it after apparently taking advice from doctors on the methods effectiveness. While this is certainly the most extreme use of this technique I have seen on screen, the decision is a very strange one as the BBFC have seen fit to allow its instruction in films before (notably in Bringing Out the Dead and The Craft) which makes this doubly disappointing. While the scene still works effectively, though with lessened impact, such cuts will dissuade many buyers from this edition.
Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 the image is good but often seems to be lacking sharpness. This may well be a product of differing filming techniques required to capture the many tricks used in the film, but there is definitely variation in the image between many scenes. Other than that it is a first rate transfer, with common problems like encoding deficiencies and dirt never bothering the presentation.
Sadly the film has only been given a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack for this release, apparently the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is only available on the slightly longer unrated directors cut, at Roger Avary’s request. It’s certainly a soundtrack that would have benefited from the extra channels, with the frequent party scenes and excellent soundtrack providing many great opportunities for surround and sub channel use, it leaves you feeling rather detached from a film that otherwise engulfs you.
Audio Commentary from Sharon Seymour, Ron Jeremy Hyatt, Ian Somerhalder and Russell Sams
This commentary is of the cut and paste variety, which works well here as the participants chip in as relevant scenes occur, making sure that there is always some interesting information forthcoming. Production designer Sharon Seymour does get the bulk of the work to do but she does also have the most intelligent input so her monopoly is much deserved.
Audio Commentary from Shannyn Sossamon, Teresa Weyman, Kip Pardue and Clifton Collins Jnr.
Another cut and paste commentary, although we are still left with too much in the way of prolonged pauses as rather than cutting to another contributor during the pauses we are left with them, so the commentators get sections to themselves. The film was shooting during 2001, and Shannyn Sossamon reveals how Roger Avery made everyone keep shooting through September 11th, whilst many weren’t entirely happy to do so all she can remember is that she was hung over. Clifton Collins Jnr. has some great contributions to the track, talking of the pleasures of bending over ‘the Beekster’ and how Roger Avery gave him permission to pistol whip James, with an enormous desert eagle handgun. Teresa Weyman, the most inexperienced member of this commentary team seems to have the most to say, and it’s rare for her to pause let alone make the track stagnate, and she has some great observations on the process, and she helps to make this the most entertaining of the two tracks present here.
It is a shame that neither Roger Avary or James Van Der Beek feature on either of the tracks, as they surely would have had the most to say (they allegedly recorded a track together that is yet to make it to any release of the film), but we are spared the likes of US ‘comedian’ Carrot Top who featured on the R1 release, so things could have been a lot worse.
Anatomy of a Scene Featurette
This featurette, part of a series shown on the Sundance channel in the US, goes in depth into the fantastic shot where Sean and Lauren first meet. After explaining the film – in depth that isn’t really necessary for those that have seen the film, but then these featurettes are as much advertising as anything else - we get to see how the shot was captured, as much happens simultaneously in split screen, but in this shot the split screen merges to create a seamless single frame. Looking not only at the technical aspects, but also the complications of acting in such a scene it reveals some nice facts about it, such as how Roger Avery sat down in post production, a month after shooting finished, and discovered one half was out of focus.
The disc also contains the theatrical and teaser trailers, a selection of TV spots and a radio spot. Whilst all make it seem like a good film, none of them are particularly innovative, and are nothing more than filler on this disc.
The Rules of Attraction is an excellent film presented on a DVD that lacks in so many areas. While the differing special features are forgivable given the different distributors the film has in many territories the lack of the directors cut, and therefore 5.1 soundtrack, is a big disappointment, and the BBFC’s decision to censor the film is also a blow. It’s by no means an awful release, and if you don’t have the means to watch a foreign version (the Australian release being the best currently available) then this is still a good purchase of a great film, it just could have been so much more.