Friday, May 8, 2009
The Rules of Attraction (2002)
Was I the only one whose college experience wasn't some sort of drug-fueled orgy? Where were the amazingly good-looking angsty Bohemian dreamers while I was sitting in my dorm room, waiting for my own End of the Universe? It probably has something to do with the upper-crusty conservative college I went to. Or maybe it was just the wrong decade.
Bret Easton Ellis published The Rules of Attraction in 1987, shortly after graduating from a small New England liberal arts college much like the one that he describes in his novel. The fictional school, Camden, is populated by apathetic proto-hipsters who spend their time snidely criticizing each other, aimlessly changing their majors, half-heartedly dabbling in the arts, and fucking like rabbits.
The film version of The Rules of Attraction repositions itself in the 2000's and updates various aspects of the book accordingly. It also takes several liberties with the characters and their stories, though in a way that remains faithful to the emotional tenor of Ellis's writing, even if several items have been sanitized for the screen (most of the gay content has been excised and one of the characters is a proud virgin, whereas everyone in the book is a total sexaholic). Perhaps somewhat cynically, the film was marketed as a college comedy, and while it possesses the requisite scenes of dorm parties and casual hook-ups, its humor is much darker than typical frat fare, as it ultimately presents a dark fantasy of sexually vampiric deviants who always ruin themselves by falling in love with the wrong people.
I don't think I ever thought I would find myself saying this, but James Van Der Beek is kind of amazing in this film. He plays Sean, the nihilistic drug-dealing partyboy who fails his classes for fun, screws anything that moves, and never quite understands how he makes himself miserable. Like all the film's characters, he hopelessly chases after the one person he can never have- in his case, it's the crafty, Bohemian Lauren, who still holds out hope for a lost boyfriend. Sean meanwhile finds himself pursued by Paul, who cooly mocks his classmates' behavior while struggling to conceal his own insecurities. It's pathetic and tragic enough to be hilarious, especially because it so successfully transforms the most superficial elements of the college film into something so different and refreshing.
The Rules of Attraction earns extra points for being one of the first major features to be cut on Final Cut Pro. The film has a certain simplicity and crispness representative of the best of digital editing systems, and it also bravely includes an entire four minute episode shot entirely on consumer DV camera. This section, which follows Kip Pardue's character as he travels around Europe in a drug-and-sex-induced stupor, is perhaps the strongest and most honest chapter in the entire film, and it demonstrates the great promise of multi-format editing that has become available to filmmakers working in the digital world.
Also, amazingly, the commentary track is by Carrot Top, who had absolutely nothing to do with the movie. He is also apparently watching it for the first time while delivering his comments. This is brilliant, hilarious, and morbid all at once. Just like the film itself.