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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 Rob Gonsalves

"Another galvanizing blast of venom from LaBute."
4 stars

'I Love You, Now Change' is, I believe, the title of one self-help book or another (and if not, it should be). It describes the phenomenon of narcissists who find that almost perfect someone, then suggest alterations to fix him or her more to their liking, always under the pretense of trying to help. Perhaps they believe it themselves.

In The Shape of Things, the close-cutting film by Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, Nurse Betty), a schlumpy grad student named Adam (Paul Rudd) meets an alluring art major named Evelyn (Rachel Weisz). They fall in love, mainly off-camera, and every time we see Adam he gets less schlumpy. His friends Phillip (Fred Weller) and Jenny (Gretchen Mol), far from being happy about his self-improvement, get worried. As well they should, because Phillip and Jenny are about to be married, and Adam's situation makes them think about things they'd rather not deal with.

Check the names: Adam and Eve(lyn). LaBute is fond of meaningful names, and we pick up a scent of unease: Is Evelyn offering Adam the forbidden fruit of self-knowledge? Was he happier before Evelyn came into his life and nudged him out of his rut? He loses weight, loses his frumpy clothing, finally loses his old nose in favor of a streamlined new one. I'm not sure how well this worked on the stage, where the material originated, but in the film we can see Adam transforming from a tweedy Sam Gamgee type to the generically handsome Paul Rudd (whose all-American looks LaBute used to subversive effect in "A Gaggle of Saints," one of his pieces in Bash: Latter-Day Plays). Phillip, perhaps sensing the loss of the familiar dynamic between himself and Adam, is threatened; Jenny, newly attracted to Adam, reaches out to him.

Rachel Weisz is well on her way to becoming another Helena Bonham Carter (whom she resembles). She's shown an affinity for quirky indie fare as well as the knockabout fun in the Mummy series, and her passion for the material here -- to the extent of co-producing the film -- overrides whatever qualms we have about Evelyn. We feel her presence when she's not around; the other characters are always discussing Evelyn and her impact on Adam. Evelyn is also dedicated to her version of truth, which in LaBute territory means blurting out secrets with a flat affect and at the worst time. We don't quite know how to read her, so we take her as perhaps a necessary grain of sand in the oyster, with Adam as the emerging pearl. After all, she's really only shaking things up that maybe needed shaking up.

Things get shaken, all right. The last act, which I won't reveal, carries echoes of In the Company of Men and the Bash plays, in which we're lured into accepting a character's motives only to have the rug pulled out from under us. Using only one character, a microphone, and two photos, LaBute gives us a sequence of scathing emotional violence that outdoes anything I've seen this year. Is it plausible? Not really, but LaBute dotes on theatrical flourishes. Things are literally unveiled here, including a pair of middle fingers extended to the audience (yes, that means us as well as the audience in the film), like punk rock played at a chamber-music recital.

The Shape of Things finds LaBute back in the artsy, misanthropic universe he's been edging away from lately (in the lovely Nurse Betty and the atypical love story Possession). In that respect, it's a bit of a regression. It's not an unwelcome one, though. LaBute exaggerates hostilities and conflicts, gives us master schemers nowhere to be found in real life, in order to open a conversation about how we relate to each other and how we create ourselves.

The key to the movie is that it's not about cold manipulation, but about a cold, manipulative view of human nature. LaBute doesn't necessarily share it; he simply presents it.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 01/02/07 07:44:23
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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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