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With: Rachel Weisz, Paul Rudd, Gretchen Mol, Fred Weller
Written by: Neil LaBute, based on his play
Directed by: Neil LaBute
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality
Running Time: 96
Date: 01/18/2003

The Shape of Things (2003)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Out of 'Shape'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Neil LaBute shocked a small part of the world with his extraordinary 1997 debut In the Company of Men, a brilliant and twisted exploration of competition between men to see who can go the furthest in manipulating a deaf female co-worker.

LaBute mellowed out a bit with subsequent films, but with The Shape of Things, he returns to that fertile ground a little older, a little wiser.

Based on his play, which ran in New York and London in 2001, The Shape of Things reunites the same cast from the stage version. In the first scene, the frumpy, dumpy Adam (Paul Rudd) runs into sexy, arty oddball Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) at his museum job. She climbs over the ropes to get closer to a sculpture of a naked male figure, whose genitals have been covered by a leaf. He tries to stop her, they talk, and they hook up.

Adam takes his new girlfriend to meet his former roommate Phillip (Fred Weller) and Phillip's fiancée, Jenny (Gretchen Mol). The attractive, blond Jenny once had a thing for Adam, but he was too shy to act on it. Unfortunately, the crass Phillip -- who always wears his sunglasses on his head -- clashes with Evelyn, and the awkwardness begins.

Things get even stranger when Adam's appearance begins improving. He loses weight, begins dressing well and even gets a nose job. With a little more confidence, Adam begins to notice things heating up between he and Jenny again. And all hell breaks loose.

Sadly, The Shape of Things plays an awful lot like In the Company of Men and where it doesn't, it's not as good. Yet, unlike the earlier film, LaBute keeps the most savage element of the story as a surprise for the ending, and I can't discuss the rest without divulging that twist.

Still, LaBute is too talented not to present something at least interesting, and the balanced struggle between and among sexes is engaging for a good chunk of the film. Each actor does great things in small moments -- Weisz with her strange little pauses in dialogue, Weller looking like he's having a hard time thinking -- and LaBute's dialogue rises to meet their talents.

In addition, the director constantly hints at something going on -- a performance of Medea, a picture of a gun pointing at Phillip's head -- and he keeps us off balance and guessing.

It's just that LaBute might have been better off throwing all his cards on the table and dealing with them up front. When everything is finally revealed, it's hard not to wrestle with a profound sense of disappointment.

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