Based on his successful stage play of the same name (and the same cast) The Shape of Things is the latest effort from Director Neil LaBute who best know for his films centered around tangled relationships and brutal encounters where people are so utterly cruel to each other you can't help but cringe (see In The Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors)
The Shape of Things in many way is LaBute 'light', it's a much softer, quieter and smaller film which seems content following the intertwined relationships of four people. Almost myopic in its focus The Shape of Things never strays far from the two main characters of the film and when it does the entire cast only consists of four actors. LaBute who wrote, directed and produced The Shape of Things does an admiral job of keeping the dialog sharp and fresh, but there's just so much dialog it inevitably causes the film to drag. Also The Shape of Things really lacks the kind of kinetic energy found in some of LaBute's other films and more than once characters launch off into long winded speeches which feel more like commentary than dialog.
It's almost impossible to watch The Shape of Things and not see it as a filmed play. LaBute has created almost a verbatim version of his stage play right down to his cast (all of which reprise their roles from the staged version). LaBute doesn't try to avoid the 'play' feeling of the film and instead seems to embrace it. Unfortunately what makes a good play doesn't always make a great movie, and I found myself getting a little fidgety in the face of the endless static camera shots.
I'm still torn on LaBute's decision to keep the stage cast for his film. While I really like Rachel Weisz she is ultimately a little 'too sweet' to pull off the darker aspects of her role. The final twist in the film (which if you find out in advance will spoil the film) involves Weisz, and she just doesn't have the same punch as another actress who had a little greater dimensionality. Weisz is good with the lighter more playful aspects of her character but when things get complex she seems too one dimensional to pull it off.
Gretchen Mol does a much better job with her role than Weisz. LaBute doesn't really give Mol a lot of dialog in the film so a lot of what she does is non-verbal. Mol does a fantastic job of embracing the subtleties of her character and does a fantastic job of showing the inner conflicts of her character.
Paul Rudd also does a fantastic job with one of the key roles of the film - Adam, who goes through a metamorphosis of his own. Rudd does a fantastic job of showing the change that happens to his character the inside as well as the outside.
Unfortunately, there are a number of elements of The Shape of Things which just don't work. LaBute seems to have some pretty strong ideas about art and these come out as diatribes from his characters and comes at the expense of the story. LaBute also seems to enjoy recurring themes and dialog (like repeating the line 'Grasshopper' from Kung Fu), which for me ended up being a little distracting. One of the more surprising shortcomings of the film is that more than once LaBute pulls his punches. One of the things I really enjoy about LaBute's work is that typically he never pulls his punches, but in The Shape of Things he defaults into 'playing it safe'.
The Shape of Things isn't particularly a bad film, it's just not a great one. LaBute is capable of so much more than The Shape of Things and seeing him pull his punches is like watching a great boxer only throw jabs. The Shape of Things feels a lot more like a side project for LaBute than anything else. The biggest problem of the film is that it just doesn't pay off. Had the ending packed more punch (been more LaBute like) it may have made the journey getting there much more worth it. As it is I'd recommend waiting to check out this film until it makes its way on to DVD as it should play just as well on the small screen as it does on the big. One side note, if you are interested in seeing The Shape of Things be careful what you read about the film, there are some twists in the film which if spoiled will really hamper your enjoyment of the film. Rent It