The Shape of Things is the latest and most tiresome of writer-director Neil LaBute's "everyday people are evil" trilogy, following 1997's In the Company of Men and the following year's Your Friends and Neighbors. And while the first film aimed its fire at men and the second at both sexes, Shape of Things (based on LaBute's stage play) is a look at female cruelty- and is unquestionably the worst film of LaBute's career.
LaBute's previous films (in addition to the winning, much less misanthropic 2000 comedy Nurse Betty) threw in both humor and profundity to go along with all the cynicism. But 'Shape' contains neither, and throws characters at us that are essentially cartoons. Even worse, the film adopts the grating every-character-gets-a-scene-with-every-other structure of 'Neighbors,' and then throws in a laughably unconvincing ending to boot.
Paul Rudd- too old to play an undergraduate, a decade after he was too old to play a high schooler in Clueless- stars as Adam, a schlubby student who works in an art gallery until he one day stumbles upon Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), a grad student threatening to deface a statue in the art gallery where he works. Soon they're a couple, not long after he undergoes a startling, Evelyn-abetted change in appearance and demeanor, much to the consternation of his friends, a couple played by Frederic Weller and Gretchen Mol.
The framework was in place here for a commentary on pussy-whipped males, or perhaps on the "metrosexual" phenomenon that has American men suddenly paying inordinate attention to their appearance. But the movie goes in a completely different, totally unbelievable direction, one more likely to produce guffaws than any sort of positive audience reaction.
Not to spoil the plot, but a key scene involving Evelyn's "final art project" introduces many more questions than it answers, such as- wouldn't it fit more as a psychology or women's studies project than one in art? And don't such projects need preliminary approval by professors? It's hard to imagine Evelyn's getting academic cover for something that would not likely be legal in real life.
If there's one reason to recommend 'Shape of Things' it's Weisz, one of the most beautiful women currently in movies, and one who is totally believable in her seduction of the Rudd character. Rudd himself is playing against type and does a good enough job, as does erstwhile "it girl" Gretchen Mol, but Frederic Weller is so laughably over-the-top as Rudd's obnoxious "friend" that he recalls Billy Zane's performance in Titanic.
It's pretty clear at this point that Neil LaBute has said all that he has to say about the misanthropy of the human race, and now it's time for him to move on to other subjects. Nurse Betty was both creative and satisfying- how about another move in that direction?