The Shape Of Things (2003)

129QUAD~The-Shape-of-Things-PostersAdam is an out of shape, meek, and nerdy security guard for the local college museum and sticks out like a sore thumb until he comes across Evelyn who is taking pictures of a sculpture. After the requisite reluctant warnings and arguments he grudgingly asks her out and she accepts taking a keen interest in him. Their relationship soon begins to blossom and Evelyn begins taking an eager and somewhat odd fascination with Adam. But as they’re relationship grows more, his friends begin noticing his increasing change in appearance and soon is forced to decide between Evelyn or his best friends. Neil Labute (who penned the original play, wrote the script, and directed) is best known for his cynical works in films like “Your Friends and Neighbors” and “In the Company of Men”, but I’d never seen a film of his before.

This was originally a play released in London with the exact same cast, and I marveled and felt disappointed at not having witnessed what the audience’s reaction might have been towards the climax of this story, for the simple fact that this film is one of most cynical and bitter pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen, and it’s possibly the most shocking with an ending that will leave many of the audience in shock, their jaws hanging down, eyes widened, and a lot of them will be very angry with what progresses; hell, I was angry. Simple fact: This is not a date flick, don’t take your girlfriend or boyfriend to this and expect to go to bed with smiles on your faces. Now I’ve never given away a surprise ending before and I don’t plan to, because robbing you, the audience, of the pure shock of the climax to this would be criminal.

Suffice it to say, the harsh cynical worldview presented by Labute makes way for one of the most original films I’ve seen in years. Paul Rudd, who I’d only seen in “Clueless” and “Friends”, gives an excellent performance as the meek and soft spoken Adam and he presents the symbol of lack of self-esteem and his character begins to take a startling change of appearance which his friends begin to notice. Cynical is the magic word for this review, because everyone in the film, every character is shallow. Adam is attracted to Evelyn not because of her personality but because of her beauty, Evelyn takes interest in Adam not because of his appearance, but the potential for a good appearance; instantly his friends Phillip (Fred Weller: ) and Jenny (Gretchen Mol: Just Looking, Thirteenth Floor) begin to take notice at his change of appearance and the revelation is also shallow.

Phillip takes notice with Adam and demeans him and ultimately feels threatened by his appearance, and it kind of makes you wonder whether he’s jealous or just worried about his change, Adam’s friend Jenny doesn’t begin to truly take notice of Adam until the change takes full effect, and then her attraction to him instantly blossoms and Adam feels the confidence to confront her about it. Rachel Weisz (Confidence, Runaway Jury) gives her best performance to date as the femme fatale and slick beauty who sort of pushes her way into Adam’s life and takes control of him. You always question what she’s up to, and Weisz manages to carry the mannerisms of a character who has something up her sleeve yet is waiting for the right time expose her devious plans, and boy are her plans devious.

This film is real, depending on how you view the world; I liked it a lot because it handled every situation with the utmost realistic proportions that would occur in everyday life. No character in the film makes a move that would question their intelligence nor do they make the audience question the realism towards the situation, which is why it was so original and engrossing. This doesn’t wrap up the way audiences will like, and if my reaction is any indicator, many people will be watching with angry groans. There is no black and white in the film; everyone is conflicted, everyone doesn’t know how to handle a specific situation and the final moments of the film are very hard to fathom; especially the way the character Adam approaches the final situation which will anger a lot. It’s a guarantee.

I’m in love with Gretchen Mol, and she manages to give a great performance as the passive and sometimes meek Jenny who is not sure where her life is going. She doesn’t seem to take much of an interest in Adam, in fact she and Phillip seem to take him humorously, but as his transformation begins she notices and begins to conjure feelings for him. The story made me question every one of the character’s motives and their approach towards certain situations, the fact is there’s no one to like or root for here, and I appreciated that Labute kept us looking from the outside in rather than giving us someone to sympathize with. The chemistry between the small cast of four is natural, smooth, and fluid, and there’s plenty of unresolved tension between them from the get-go, but we’re never told what the tension concerns, but then what would be the point if we learned everything about these characters?

Where would the mystery be? The tension between them make way for some truly memorable scenes including the excellent argument between Evelyn and Phillip upon their first meeting, and the tension filled meeting between Jenny, Evelyn, and Adam at a coffee place after Jenny discovers something about Adam. All of the events in the film are hints to where the climax is possibly leading, and though it’s guaranteed the audience won’t catch up in time, the finale is one of the most shocking I’ve ever seen, and god help me, I loved it. One of the best films of recent years, Labute presents a ballsy, daring, and truly original portrait of human cruelty. It’s never afraid to take a risk and doesn’t go for a safe sappy ending, and though the audiences may not like the ultimate shocking resolution of the story, you have to appreciate it for its top notch innovation and originality.