Rules of Attraction Review

by Harvey S. Karten (harveycritic AT cs DOT com)
September 27th, 2002


Rating out of 4 stars: 3
Reviewed by Harvey Karten
Lions Gate Films
Director: Roger Avary
Writer: Roger Avary, novel by Bret Easton Ellis
Cast: James Van Der Beek, Ian Somerhalder, Shannyn
Sossamon, Jessica Biel, Kip Pardue, Russell Sams, Faye Dunaway, Swoosie Kurtz, Eric Stoltz
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 9/26/02

Here is yet another movie that makes me feel not so bad about going to college in the boring (late) 1950s rather in the decades following. We imbibed nothing stronger than beer at the fraternity parties, coke was something we drank from a bottle, and sex was the item we checked off on various and sundry forms.

    So what's to be feeling so happy about going to college in the late fifties? Take a look at Roger Avary's film, adapted from a mighty puissant novel by Bret Easton Ellis, which features a couple of characters that first appeared in his "American Psycho." Every guy at the plush New England Camden College (filmed in San Bernardino County in Southern Cal) seems to be having relations with half the campus, in most cases the opposite sex, yet we wonder whether they're happy. They drink, sniff cocaine, throw up, and in at least one case get into very serious trouble with some drug kingpins who are tapping some of the rich talent at the university to push their blow at a 50% markup over the market price. If you want to take Roger Avary's picture as a satiric jab at richniks' fun and games at playboy schools, that's fine. There is reason to think he's into a broader area: the death of romance, or maybe even a more jarring and emotional take on the decline and fall of American culture than appeared in the staid play and movie by Wallace Shawn, "The Designated Mourner" directed by David Hare in which endless talk took the place of the bottomless sex of Avary's pic.

    If the intellectual upper crust could be called the target of the David Hare movie, the upper bourgeois is the target of the current film, specifically the progeny of parents who have enough money to send their kids to a school but seem unwilling or unable to monitor just what goes on in the dorm rooms, at the parties, and at the classes that few "students" appear to attend.

    Avary's designated mourner is Sean Bateman (played against type by Dawson's Creek star James Van Der Beek), who seems not to be mourning at all, but give him time. Opening with a trailer that features some cool (if pretentious) photography- specifically when Avary rewinds the film for a backwards glance and later resorts to an interesting split-screen technique to show what a man and a woman are doing just before they meet. The director hones in some on some of the wild parties that take place on campus, blasts that are unsupervised by the school's security force, the deans, and by the teachers (one of whom is as dissolute as any of the students). In an orgy of excess that reminds us of novelist Ellis's endless recounting of brand names in "American Psycho," we see The Edge of the World Party, The Dress to Get Screwed Party (which should have been called the Undress Party), and the End of the World Party, all of which go on all night and, in fact, all week for all we know because these kids rarely attend classes.

When Bateman meets Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), there is an immediate attraction, but Lauren is "saving herself" for one Victor (Kip Pardue) whom she considers her steady and who is off on a tour of Europe. At the same time bisexual Paul Denton (Ian Somerhalder) is attracted to Bateman as is a student who is working her way through school in the college cafeteria. Avary unfolds the story about this romantic roundelay (accent on the last syllable), demonstrating through repetition that we can never really get to know anybody - as the two principal characters agree at the conclusion.

    For me the most fascinating scene is a fast-forward tour of Europe that shows Victor visiting Switzerland, Italy, England, Ireland and Spain getting it on with a multicultural group of young people, giving the story its principal irony when you consider that her loyal girl friend back home at Camden thinks he's being awed by the Sistine Chapel and the Tower of London. Yet another impressive scene has Paul meeting his pill-pepping rich mother, Eve Denton (Faye Dunaway) and Eve's friend Mimi Jared (Swoosie Kurtz) at a hotel restaurant while Paul's friend Dick (Russell Sams) outdoes even the guys at the party scene in obnoxious

    This is a good, strong movie that avoids the pitfalls and pratfalls of the Animal House genre. Nobody has a relationship with a pie, nobody feeds a mouse to a snake, and the vomiting, while present, does not become the star attraction of the story. You could actually become nostalgic for the fifties.

Rated R. Running time: 110 minutes. (C) 2002 by
Harvey Karten, [email protected]

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