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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Shape of Things
Shape of Things
Universal // R // September 23, 2003
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted September 18, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

There was something rather off-putting at first about Neil Labute's new film, "The Shape of Things". The picture, based upon the director's play and apparently starring the same cast, still feels very theatrical (and, besides that, it feels a little forced at the opening) despite the transition to screen. Once I was able to move past those aspects - although they still return at times - I started finding a few aspects of this return to mild mean-spiritedness for Labute ("In the Company of Men") to like.

The picture stars Paul Rudd as Adam, a nerdy security guard who suffers from bouts of insecurity and spouting goofy phrases. He runs into Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) in the museum where he works; she's about to vandalize a statue in protest, while he remains curious about her reasoning. She seems curious about fixing up Adam. The two start a relationship of sorts and eventually, she spots changes in him; he's lost weight, he's dressing better and he has more confidence in himself.

However, his old friends - Jenny (Gretchen Mol) and Philip (Frederick Weller, not playing the jerk nearly as well as Aaron Eckhart did in Labute's "In the Company of Men") start to worry that she's taken him over, changing him as she sees fit and taking the alterations further - eventually leading him towards dropping his friends - a particularly troubling move for Jenny, who may have unspoken feelings for Paul.

I suppose I have an underlying dissapointment that this is the film that Labute has chosen to do after "Possession", which, I felt, was his best work since his first. "The Shape Of Things", at its core, does include an interesting exploration of perception and image and how it effects both ourselves and how we see - and manipulate - other people, but I can't say I was always entirely involved in the characters. I wasn't always involved in the conflicts during the film, either, but still was involved with its thought-provoking ideas about relationships and art. Its dark, surprise ending also ties things together in a way that's unexpected. Maybe the film doesn't build the kind of rhythm or heightening sense of dread towards its ending that "in the Company Of Men" did, but it's an inspired close, nonetheless.

The film's finest element is its performances, although that's not entirely unexpected, given the fact that these actors have gone through this story on the stage many times. Although I didn't care for Weller's performance and was irritated by Rudd's goofiness until the film got going, the film's leading ladies offer more complex efforts. Weisz, who has taken more interesting roles since reportedly finishing her connection to the "Mummy" series, is quite superb here. Subtle, complex and riveting, Weisz is able to smoothly move from sweetness to calculation. Mol, who unrightly fell from her "It Girl" position after a couple of late-90's flops, continues to offer graceful performances in smaller features. Here, she gives the sweet Jenny more layers than the character would have had and certainly, she's the sympathetic character of the bunch.

Overall, I felt this was an interesting and mostly successful movie; I didn't care for aspects of it and it takes a little while to start clicking, but my overall impression of this thought-provoking film was positive.


The DVD

VIDEO: Universal presents "Shape of Things" with a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that's generally respectable. Overall definition is satisfactory; the picture usually looks crisp and clean, but still has a slight softness to it that keeps it from a higher level of definition.

Edge enhancement is present in several scenes, occasionally to a mild level that provides a bit of distraction. Compression artifacts are also visible in a couple of the darker scenes. The print looked clean, though, aside from a couple of little specks. Colors remained generally pleasant looking, although they did appear a bit soft and smeary in a couple of scenes.

SOUND: Universal presents "Shape of Things" in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. The film's only element of surround use is the score, which enters in at a fairly high volume - enough to surprise a bit - on occasion. However, once the music wraps, the film's soundtrack turns into an almost entirely dialogue-driven feature, with little - as to be expected - in the way of ambience sounds or other touches. Dialogue and music remained clear.

EXTRAS: Forced trailers for "Swimming Pool" and "The Guys" show before the main menu.

Commentary: Director Neil Labute and actor Paul Rudd offer a surprisingly animated and lightweight commentary for the feature. The two go into a fairly in-depth discussion of what it was like trying to translate the play to the screen, going into details about the film's visuals, working with the other actors and the crew. But, when not chatting about the story at hand, the two seem like awfully good friends, joking about each other and moments within the film.

Stage to Screen: This is a 3-1/2 minute introduction from director Neil Labute, who discusses the transition from stage-to-screen and the process of working with the same actors on a film adaptation of the play.

Also: The film's theatrical trailer, recommendations and "Welcome To Mercy College", a little film/promo starring the characters from the movie.

Final Thoughts: Although I was generally positive about "Shape of Things", I had some mixed feelings about a couple of the performances and how the film seems a little theatrical on occasion. Still, strong dialogue, a few very good performances and thought-provoking ideas are in attendance throughout. Recommended for Labute fans, a rental for others.

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