The Rules of Attraction (2002)
First and foremost: THIS. IS. NOT. A. ROMANTIC. COMEDY. Now that that’s settled, let’s proceed.
This is a film based on a book by the same guy who wrote American Psycho. Even if you haven’t seen the film (which I have but will most likely never review) or read the book (which I refuse to go near, we sold it at Borders in a plastic wrapper that you couldn’t remove and you had to show ID to buy the book) the damn title should give you some idea of what the writer is like. So when I say this isn’t a romantic comedy, believe me, it is not a romantic comedy. It is far from one.
The Rules of Attraction follows three students at an unnamed ivy league school in USA; Sean (James Van Der Beek), a drug dealer in debt out to find the mystery girl who leaves love letters in his mail box; Paul (Ian Somerhalder), a beautiful gay senior in love with Sean; and Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), a smart virgin girl saving herself for a boy that doesn’t know she exists; through their every day lives at the college as they mix with people, alcohol, drugs and each other. Each character is very human in the sense that they are all flawed. Some much more than others, but they’re not perfect characters. Because of this, they are very easy to relate to, and certain characters are much more sympathetic than others.
Another important note before we move on: this is not an easy movie and very few people who I have met and talked to about it have liked it. I saw it for the first time at film school in a directing lecture titled “how to direct your actors”. For those who have seen the film (liked it or not is irrelevant) we were studying the camerawork of the suicide scene. At first, I thought that the scene was incredible because it achieved exactly what it wanted to do, it made you feel dizzy and uncomfortable and freakish, without showing anything but the actress’ face. And then, once I had rented the film, I realized that I loved it less for the story and more for its technical aspects.
The film is done very unusually but in a way that I really enjoyed. As the story is told through the eyes and interior monologues of three people, the director had to find a convincing and interesting way of moving between the three storylines without the generic cut-and-paste-new-scene technique. To avoid this, Avery chose to play out a scene and at the end rewind it back to a certain point and start it playing real-time when the next character appeared on screen. That sounds confusing… let me give an example. A completely unrelated character can walk in on a scene with Lauren, and when her scene ends, the same unrelated character will be shown walking backwards out of the room, down the stairs, through the dance floor and past Sean standing in a corridor, at which time the rewind will slow down until it’s real time and then follow Sean in his story.
Besides that technique (which I honestly find incredible) the film is filled with effective use of split screen and slow motion. The continuous running monologue of either Sean or Paul or Lauren is not annoying, and actually rather helpful; bringing you further into their minds and their worlds and helping you to understand who they are, even though to others they may seem completely different.
The soundtrack is strange but very fitting for the film and the genre; I personally would kill for the rewind-remix of Carol of the Bells that plays at the beginning, but I know a few people who will find the soundtrack jarring and very uncomfortable. I guess that’s the idea, though, right?
I am rather keen to read the book, but I have yet to find the time (or the book in the library) to read it. If I ever do I’ll add more to this review. I see this film less as a drama and more as a satire on student society. I live in NZ and I have never been in an educational atmosphere in USA; and although I know that it is a totally different dynamic with its own rules and regulations and hierarchical ladders, I know for a fact that what is shown in this film is an over-the-top satirized view of spoilt rich kids out for their next hit of anything (be it sex or alcohol or drugs).
For those interested in seeing the film, be warned. It is not a pretty picture that the writer and the director paint of student life and college survival. If you’re squeamish, you should definitely be wary of this. If you’re someone who gets a little queasy at the sight of suicide, don’t worry so much. You don’t see anything of the suicide bar the first 3 seconds before the amazing camerawork takes over and you see nothing but feel everything. That being said… maybe avoid it if you’re not able to watch suicide scenes. Sounds like I’m trying to talk you out of seeing the movie, but believe me, I’m not. The Rules of Attraction is a film that I rewatch very regularly, and I can’t even tell you why. It makes sense to me. Either way, I give it a 6/10 and recommend it to anyone who – if anything – really likes the main actors or adores new and exciting editing styles.