The Rules Of Attraction Review
At the centre of The Rules Of Attraction is a love triangle between three people who would be outraged if you told them they could feel something as clichéed as love. These are the jaded elite of Camden University, an Ivy League college which is home to the most privileged young people in America. They've seen everything, done everything and know everything. The only way to assert your superiority is to care less. The most desirable man on campus is the most blasé - Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek), handsome, arrogant and incidentally the younger brother of American Psycho's Patrick Bateman. He's the last person on earth who'd expect to fall in love but then he meets Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon). He likes her and he likes the messages she leaves in his locker.
Lauren is unfashionably still a virgin, although her roommate is Lana (Jessica Biel), the campus slut, who we first meet as she's preparing to perk up the football team and not by waving pom poms. Lauren's saving herself for Victor (Kip Pardue), her dream boyfriend who's backpacking in Europe, though she doesn't mind giving her tutor the odd blow-job to keep up her grades. But Lara's urging her to get the whole cherry-popping business over and the photos of STD symptoms she keeps beside her bed aren't the deterrent they once were. Sean seems like a cool guy and as good a candidate as any.
Sean leads a hectic life. When he's not partying, screwing and getting high, he's also the campus drug dealer, not because he needs the money but because it brings some excitement into his empty life. He likes hanging around the neighbourhood suppliers, oblivious to the danger of owing money to such people and to the bottled resentment they feel for this tourist. Besides Lauren, he's also an object of longing for Paul (Ian Somerhalder), a blueblooded bisexual who leans towards men and convinces himself his feelings for Sean are reciprocated. And as we find out in the film's most disturbing scene, there's an invisible fourth side to this triangle. One of the film's truest observations is that when we fall for someone, we believe our feelings are so strong they couldn't possibly pass unnoticed.
There's a lot of sex in The Rules Of Attraction but no one seems to be enjoying it much. The film opens with a man vomiting over the semi-conscious woman he's date-raping and she doesn't even seem that surprised. Like the citizens of imperial Rome and the French aristocracy before the Revolution, these kids indulge in depravity because they can. They're at the top of society's food chain and morality is for people further down. Bret Easton Ellis, who wrote the novel this is based on as well as American Psycho, knows this world well and he makes fun of his characters without losing sight of their humanity. He seems to feel as sorry for them as he is amused by them. In one of the film's many asides, Paul and his childhood friend Dick (Russell Sams) have dinner with their pill-popping mothers (Faye Dunaway and Swoosie Kurtz) and we get a glimpse of how these characters are going to end up.
The film is adapted and directed by Roger Avary, who previously made Killing Zoe and originally penned the Bruce Willis segment of Pulp Fiction. This is a major leap forward for him. It's a brash, confident film which integrates a lot of narrative digressions, experimental camerawork and humourous touches without ever losing track of what it's about. For once the style serves the content instead of overwhelming it. I liked the way the film set up the three main characters in the opening scene and then pulled the rug out by going back in time and showing how they ended up that way. Although it's basically a downbeat film to describe, it's not a depressing one and it has more laughs than any comedy I've seen recently. In a movie filled with memorable scenes, watch out for Victor's whirlwind tour of Europe, a comic masterpiece and the last word on students abroad.