Directed by Neil LaBute, starring Rachel Weisz, Gretchen Mol, Paul Rudd and Frederick Weller.
Based on his play of the same name, Neil LaBute's 'The Shape of Things' places the US writer-director in familiar territory. Familiar because even though he only made his debut six years ago, his name is already synonymous with nasty individuals doing nasty things to nice people. This is not the nastiness of chopping people up and burying them under the floorboards, it is the horror of emotional evisceration. It is more subtle, and therefore more real. In 1997's 'The Company of Men', it was a deaf woman who was the butt of the cruelty. Here, LaBute attempts to even the score.
When free spirit Evelyn (Weisz) breezes into nerdy Adam's (Rudd) life, he is instantly smitten. Smart, sexy, intelligent and fiercely independent, Evelyn is every guy's type. So why him? Initially reticent and suspicious, Adam soon accepts Evelyn's contention that there are no hidden agendas, just genuine desire and commitment. But not everyone is as easily convinced. Jenn and Philip (Mol and Weller), Adam's engaged college mates, almost instantly dislike Evelyn. They are uneasy about the pace of the relationship, and in Adam's new clothes, hairdo, physique and even attitude, they see brainwash where he sees bliss.
Ultimately, 'The Shape of Things' should have been left on the stage. With just four characters - at least one of whom is a non-starter - the transition to the screen was never likely to be a success. LaBute has managed to deflect attention from some of the shortcomings with some sharp visual touches - the white on red 'Moralists have no place in an art gallery' in the exhibition scene - but is less successful in plugging holes in his screenplay. The characters here seem wholly detached from the outside world, and their only interaction seems to be with each other. Hence Adam's transformation is far too seamless to be in any way credible, while Evelyn exists only as a spectre in a specific time and place, with no discernible background or past.
The performances of the central duo are fine, with the radiant Weisz in particular dominating. Gretchen Mol's Jenny is probably a little too sincere to leave any lasting impression, but Frederick Weller exudes more of the oily charm which he showed in 2001's 'Business of Strangers'.
It is probably a measure of Neil LaBute's impact that watching 'The Shape of Things', one expects a disturbing twist. He has written himself into a position whereby any ostensible character honesty is doubted, and where audiences find themselves waiting for his characters to show their true, twisted selves.
Perhaps it's time to start anew.