Review: The Rules Of Attraction (2002)


James Van Der Beek can act, who knew!

Screenplay By: Roger Avary
Directed By: Roger Avary

I recently wrote about MASH and how that movie puts forth despicable characters it wants us to love and root for. The Rules Of Attraction is the exact opposite, it puts forth despicable characters, but at no point does the movie want you to love them or root for them. The camera moves around them in apathy, exuding a state of denial in the viewer, the sense that people can’t actually be this abhorrent even though we know some people are. One depraved act after another is committed and we are left without a solitary character to root for or like. But that’s fine, we aren’t supposed to like these characters or their actions, we’re simply supposed to experience their lives.

I can see where the approach of The Rules Of Attraction would put off many people. Who wants to take in core depravity where there isn’t a single shred of decent humanity in sight? Well, I do, for the same reason that I want to watch movies from the other spectrum where humanity is a lovely construct full of nothing but candy canes and tiddlywinks. I love the hyper exaggerated style of The Rules Of Attraction, this clearly isn’t a real world these characters are operating in. It’s every college age stereotype taken to the extreme to show the truth of what does take place in college. I realize some people were probably naive enough to think The Rules of Attraction is trying to say that all college age kids act as those in The Rules Of Attraction do. By the same token I am sure a significant amount of people are naive to the point of believing that no college age kids act like those in The Rules Of Attraction. No, the people in The Rules Of Attraction are exaggerated and exist in a sort of hyper reality, they aren’t meant to be viewed as real people, but rather as constructs of the depravity that exists inside all of us on some level.

I was entranced by the hyper exaggerated style of The Rules Of Attraction because of the way this allows the viewer to move through the actions of these characters without actually feeling like a part of their world. You never really feel a part of the sex, or attune to the violence or fully capable of understanding the inner most thoughts of these characters. As you watch them drop further and further into depravity without a seeming care in the world you don’t quite understand it, but at the same time you are attracted to what you are seeing. Moments of comedy cause you to laugh even though you know you shouldn’t be laughing. It is in the above moments that The Rules Of Attraction achieves its purpose, by accepting what you are seeing on screen even though you know you shouldn’t the movie is calling into question your own levels of depravity. In a movie full of characters viewed as unidentifiable The Rules Of Attraction ultimately asks what it says about us when at times we can identify. If these characters aren’t real, but are in fact hyper exaggerated and only representing hidden depravities in all of us then what does it mean when we do react to what we are seeing on screen?

The style used in The Rules Of Attraction is another stumbling block for most people. In a visual sense as well as in terms of characters and their look. I thought the rewind style used to tie the plots together, as well as the fast forward style for the European trip, and the look and cool style of the characters fit perfectly with the theme. Style wise The Rules Of Attraction was an interesting movie, and once again in a movie where the characters are so deplorable that you should turn away you are actually drawn in even further by the style seen in the characters and employed in the narrative by the director. However, I did feel in a few areas that the film sidetracked itself in attempting to present repelling cool. The drug dealers and the overdose sequence are the best examples of this. I could have done without the drug dealers on the whole and without the overdose sequence. Both came across as excess, and I know that’s an odd critique in a film that functions so well because of its excess, but that’s what I got.

It didn’t surprise me to learn that most critics hated The Rules Of Attraction. Films like MASH where the camera loves its deplorable characters are praised while films like The Rules Of Attraction where the camera hates its characters are bashed. It’s sad, but such is the way of life, honesty is punished while manipulation is rewarded. Either way, don’t let the critics fool you, The Rules Of Attraction is, much like American Psycho, another Bret Easton Ellis adaptation, in that it presents horrendous acts of depravity and deplorable people in an honest light and asks hard questions about the viewers humanity through exaggeration. It’s not perfect, but The Rules Of Attraction is an overlooked film that is well worth a watch.





2 responses to “Review: The Rules Of Attraction (2002)

  1. Bill, youve been reviewing some crackers lately, hard to know which one to comment on! The Rules of Attraction is a great show, gets better with every viewing, although funny enough i agree with your comment about there being no real need for the drug dealers in the story. Super use of music too, particularly Donovan and Public Image (im actually gonna download that song now, i think). van der beek should have gone on to great things after this, i reckon he has at least one more great role in him a few years down the line

  2. Bill Thompson

    That was part of scaling down what I review, trimming the fat and sticking to films I love or that are directed by people I am quite fond of. Hopefully the new format of less reviews, but more quality reviews is working out for everyone.

    Great point about the music, not only were they great songs, but each song fit its moment or scene perfectly.

    Unfortunately for Van Der Beek I don’t know if he’ll ever be able to break from his Dawson image. I think he showed in The Rules Of Attraction that he does have some acting chops, but I don’t know if he’ll ever be given the chance to show those chops again. His best bet is probably to take some independent roles, then people can see what he really has as an actor.

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