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Overall Rating

Awesome: 29.87%
Worth A Look44.16%
Average: 5.19%
Pretty Bad: 11.69%
Total Crap: 9.09%

6 reviews, 41 user ratings

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Shape of Things, The
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by EricDSnider

"Another noble experiment in the field human cruelty."
4 stars

(SCREENED AT THE 2003 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL) - Neil LaBute’s first two films, “In the Company of Men” (1997) and “Your Friends & Neighbors” (1998), focused on selfish, cruel characters capable of committing unspeakable acts of social inhumanity. After sidetracking with “Nurse Betty” (2000) and “Possession” (2003), LaBute the misanthrop is back to form with “The Shape of Things.” Here, as in his earlier work, we have a lesson in human cruelty.

The loose cannon is Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), an art major at California’s fictional Mercy College (the name of the school is no doubt ironic). When we meet her, she is about to deface a nude statue that has been covered up due to prudishness; with a can of spray paint, she intends to re-draw what a plaster fig-leaf has obscured. The censorship offends her, though her de-censoring will offend others.

Making weak attempts to stop her is the museum’s security guard, Adam (Paul Rudd), a nerdy, slightly chubby weakling. They have a conversation, which leads to a date, which leads to Evelyn taking over Adam’s life entirely. She prompts him to lose weight (Rudd wore makeup and a fat suit in the early scenes), get contact lenses and stop biting his nails. Then the changes become more drastic, affecting his long-time friendship with a sweet girl named Jenny (Gretchen Mol) and her macho fiance Phillip (Fred Weller). In the Bible, Eve was created from Adam. Here, Eve does the creating and Adam is the finished product.

LaBute is a writer first and a director second. What he does visually is unobtrusive and functional, but what he does with words and structure is wonderful. The word “thing,” with its many imprecise definitions, shows up often, and the title of the film is spoken twice, both times by the same character, but each time with a different meaning. The dialogue brims with cultural references and personal invective, much of which is caustically funny.

Two things about the film strike me as particularly interesting. One is that it only has 11 scenes, in 11 locations, compared with the 50 or 60 that most movies its length might have. This is because LaBute has adapted the script from his own play without really changing it, resisting the temptation some writers have to “expand” their plays into something more cinematic and less theatrical.

The other interesting thing is that it only has four speaking roles. It hadn’t occurred to me that the cast was so small until the credits rolled and I only saw four names. It doesn’t seem quiet and claustrophobic, like many small-cast films do.

The performances are well-honed and precise -- all four actors played the roles in the stage version, too -- but LaBute’s intriguing concepts are also the source of his stumbling. The nature of what he has written is that we are less interested in the characters themselves than in what they might do to each other. The mechanism is the thing, not the people caught in it, and that lessens some of the film’s impact. Or, from another point of view, it makes us as uncaring toward the characters as they sometimes are toward each other.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 01/29/03 08:32:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/25/12 Dane Youssef A photographed play, yes. But everything just works. LaBute's work is painfully relevant. 5 stars
9/17/10 Stephanie Such a "different" movie. Can't decide if I liked it or not. Made me sad for humanity. 4 stars
3/22/09 Dane Youssef LaBute shows us again with what's wrong with all mankind. Why do we keep giving him fodder? 5 stars
12/19/06 Neil As this is art - and not entertainment, any critical commentary will alas, not be art. 5 stars
8/17/06 William Goss Well-acted, esp. Weisz & Rudd, but still feels like a play. Twist comes as no big surprise. 3 stars
7/26/06 drydock54321 it's different and original 4 stars
6/19/06 anitamich interesting and unpredictable 4 stars
9/26/05 a. kurlovs better than "in the company of men" in every respect. rachel weisz is brilliant! 5 stars
8/18/05 ES I would have clocked that bitch in the mouth 3 stars
6/20/05 Steve Newman Its a good film to watch - you knew something was up!! 4 stars
3/27/05 john h. wallace totoally surprised by's inhumanity to man.sos....acting superb 4 stars
3/19/05 dbx wow. this sucked. enormous disappointment after "Comp. of Men". 1 stars
9/26/04 Tor Honolulu Only when he said F*** YOU, YOU C*** did I love this, but that lasted only two seconds 1 stars
8/29/04 random* writing iffy at times, Mol needs to stop. Now. Please. 3 stars
7/19/04 axe pissed me off knowing LaBute would never allow the romantic resolution yet expects shock 2 stars
7/08/04 Denise Duspiva He was sweet couldn't stand her 4 stars
6/26/04 y2mckay Trite and stilted, with a predictable gender twist on "Company of Men" 2 stars
5/24/04 Butterbean I loved "In Company of Men". But I grew impatient with this one and walked out the theater. 1 stars
3/24/04 Reini Urban I just love this kind of analytical drama, esp. since its cynical, true and fun. 5 stars
1/03/04 Faith Rachel Weisz stole the show, again. 4 stars
12/15/03 Toni Shows us the worst and the worst of ourselves. Brilliantly written. 5 stars
12/12/03 Kooler embarrassingly pretensious, badly acted, saw the ending coming from the opening scene. 1 stars
10/29/03 ROSI Evelyn is cold and some may say evil...i think it is great 4 stars
9/27/03 surlybird hard, cruel, great 5 stars
7/28/03 Jana Do we really want to watch this, unless we enjoy pain? 4 stars
5/28/03 mrcowen this movie sucks! too much dialogue and bad acting. It was painful. 1 stars
5/27/03 Zaki Hi, I'm Zaki, and Rachel Weisz is the SHIT! 4 stars
5/23/03 brainiac68 interesting & emotionally engaging -- ultimately confounding but definitely worthwhile 4 stars
5/20/03 Troy no 1 stars
5/19/03 Andrew Carden Slow Beginning, but The Last Hour Is Amazing. Weisz Gives An Oscar-Worthy Performance. 4 stars
5/14/03 George Jung This is just like "The Big Kahuna"; a play that doesn't respect the movie-making process. 3 stars
5/14/03 Jin fascinating and intriguing. Acting was first-rate. 4 stars
5/10/03 NYC fan Intelligent, thought-provoking, interesting, true, a downer 4 stars
5/10/03 Worse Than You! best FILM of the year!!!!!! fascinating conclusion 5 stars
5/10/03 Ahmed Badran Good movie Good actor performance, cinematography ok 4 stars
5/10/03 Howard Neil LaBute best work since in The Company of Men 5 stars
5/08/03 Claudette Parker This movie dragged on forever. My friend got up halfway and actually left. I should have. 2 stars
4/01/03 kc great play, great movie!! 5 stars
1/23/03 Sean I liked it. 4 stars
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Directed by
  Neil LaBute

Written by
  Neil LaBute

  Paul Rudd
  Rachel Weisz
  Gretchen Mol
  Fred Weller

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