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The Rules of Attraction(2002)
During a semester at New England's exclusive and ultra-expensive Camden College, a sexual triangle emerges between Sean Bateman, the all-American looking guy who deals drugs on the side, Paul Owen, who's bisexual, and Paul's ex-girlfriend, Lauren. Sean grows obsessed with the pure Lauren because he thinks she's passing him passionate, anonymous love notes. At the same time, Paul keeps trying to get Sean into bed, while Lauren pines for Victor, who she believes is her dream man despite the fact he is studying abroad in Europe.
For more about The Rules of Attraction and the The Rules of Attraction Blu-ray release, see the The Rules of Attraction Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on February 26, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: James Van Der Beek, Ian Somerhalder, Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel, Kip Pardue, Thomas Ian Nicholas
Director: Roger Avary
» See full cast & crew
The Rules of Attraction Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, February 26, 2011
Satire can be a sticky wicket at times, especially in its written form. As anyone who has trafficked over the internet can tell you, discerning tone from the written word is difficult if not impossible at times, and one person's black sense of humor is another person's shock and lack of awe. Perhaps that's one reason author Bret Easton Ellis' pieces have been so radically polarizing through the years. He's acclaimed as one of his generation's most cogent observers by some critics, while others insist he's a self-absorbed misogynistic brat who dresses some very ugly subject matter up in pretty prose. That same polarizing response has greeted pretty much all of the film adaptations made of Ellis' novels, though one might think that Ellis' satirical element would be at least potentially clearer when depicted in a visual style that might leave a little less to the viewers' imaginations than a reader would bring to the printed page. Even Ellis himself is on record as stating that the film versions of Less than Zero and American Psycho didn't properly convey his point of view or particular satiric vocabulary, and, rightly or wrongly, Ellis insists that the best reproduction of his intent—best perhaps being a relative term in this fairly insular universe—is the 2002 film Rules of Attraction. Rules of Attraction flirts with the same dark tone of Less than Zero and American Psycho, probably falling a bit closer to the former than the latter, but still staying true to Ellis' fascination with disaffected souls who seem to wander, zombie-like at times, through a series of fairly horrible events. Is it "funny" in a traditionally satirical way? Probably not, unless your sense of humor is skewed to a level of schadenfreude where other peoples' problems are by their very nature humorous simply they're not happening to you. Is it "disturbing" and perhaps even "thought provoking," as satire can also often be? That's probably a surer bet, though what exactly you may think about Rules of Attraction may in fact be a function of how badly disturbed you are by its subject matter.
I always knew it was going to be like that.
Ellis' original novel famously begins mid-sentence and ends without benefit of a complete sentence, and writer-director Roger Avary attempts to get at that literal "middle ground" by twisting time back on itself throughout the film, as evidenced by one of the major characters' quotes above, which is filled with a deliberately ambiguous combination of thoughts about time and tense. We start mid-way through the "End of the World Party" at fictional Camden College, where we meet three different characters, Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), Sean (James van der Beek), and Paul (Ian Somerhalder). Ellis' novel was a sort of Rashomon-esque affair which posited different first-person points of view from these characters, and Avary introduces each of the three in a separate vignette, each told from their perspective. Avary also "turns back time" in a series of segments where things play out in reverse. Ultimately we find ourselves back in time and begin to learn how these three characters are interconnected, though those interconnections reveal themselves slowly and deliberately as several other subplots play out.
Sometimes I can't believe the s*** that spills out of my mouth.
Much like Less than Zero, Rules of Attraction plays with the vagaries of disaffected youth. We're privy to a group of promiscuous college students who aren't exactly in search of themselves. What they're really in search of is a good time, a way to further numb themselves from the emotions none of them seem to want to face square on. Lauren pines both for Sean, whom she nonetheless considers as a sort of romantic placeholder, as well as the "man of her dreams," Victor, who in a stinging denouement late in the film doesn't exactly return the favor. Paul, who had a long ago relationship with Lauren, is at the very least bisexual, probably more outright gay, and stumbles through a series of come-ons that frequently don't get the response he's after. In one of the film's best adaptive moments culled from the book, we're not quite sure whether or not Paul and Sean have had an amorous fling. Sean is a ladykiller (perhaps ironically the younger brother of "real" killer Patrick Bateman of American Psycho) who also has a major drug problem. He's also been receiving anonymous love letters in his mailbox and mistakenly believes they're coming from Lauren.
A great numb feeling washes over me.
Around these three dissolute lives a series of college parties and interactions unfolds, with typically extremely dry Ellis humor. There's a very subtle black streak running rampant through this film which is testament to Avary's skill at translating Ellis' sometimes oblique style into filmic terms. Avary also manages to deal with the melodramatic aspects well, including some disturbing scenes of rape and suicide. The film is actually tonally quite precise, walking a nice tightrope between outright lampooning of crazy college life and investing the characters with a dose of reality. Avary also does very well with the Rashomon aspect, treating each character's point of view as equally "accurate." He also pulls off a brilliant directorial sleight of hand in a hallway meeting between Sean and Lauren, which initially plays out as a split screen segment and then magically segues into a two shot, a really ingenious representation of what Ellis was going for in his original novel.
Where the film may occasionally stumble is in a few of the throwaway scenes, including a couple of patently odd cameo segments. Singer-songwriter and Love Boat regular "guest star" Paul Williams (he co-wrote a lot of the Carpenters' hits) shows up as a doctor not exactly saddled with a soothing bedtime manner. Eric Stoltz is briefly on hand in a number of scenes as a lecherous professor, an underwritten role which adds virtually nothing to the film. Faye Dunaway and Swoosie Kurtz at least make for a passingly funny odd couple of mothers who fret about the color of a new car even as their sons are melting down in a hoity toity private club. The recurring subplot of the violent drug dealer, which in fairness to the film comes pretty much straight out of the novel, also veers into self-parody at times and seems overly lurid even within the confines of the film.
On the whole, though, it's easy to see why Ellis seems to prefer this film adaptation over the others which have been made from his novels and which may in fact have had higher profiles than this one. With a very smart approach by Avary, Rules of Attraction manages to be darkly humorous as well as emotionally real feeling most of the time. The film is also aided and abetted by some really good performances throughout. Van der Beek is especially impressive, and has one of the scariest most animalistic glowers in recent memory, and Sossamon is touching and vulnerable as Lauren. The Rules of Attraction is rather surprisingly entertaining despite its supposedly disaffected ambience.
The Rules of Attraction Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Rules of Attraction's AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1 is for the most part very good to excellent, with pleasing fine detail, good color and saturation and overall decent contrast. This film was obviously shot on a miniscule budget, and it purposely includes some post-processed segments (the long sequence recounting Victor's European travels, for example) which are full of overblown contrast and grainy footage. But if you can accept the film on its own lo-fi terms, this Blu-ray transfer has a lot to offer. Avary features a lot of close-ups (sometimes extreme close-ups), and these shots offer an abundance of fine detail, with nicely saturated fleshtones and decent resolution of some typical problem areas like hair (albeit with some passing shimmer from time to time). It's true that some of the darker scenes suffer from moderate crush and haziness, as well as more than abundant grain, but on the whole, the film looks surprisingly spry and sharp.
The Rules of Attraction Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Rules of Attraction features a very well realized DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix which utilizes the surrounds virtually nonstop for a variety of ubiquitous underscore source cues. The many party and group scenes also spill into the side and rear channels offering a nice recreation of the claustrophobic sonic environment of a college blowout. Dialogue is always clear, though it tends to be anchored fairly strongly in the front channels. Fidelity is spot on throughout this mix, with occasional LFE rumbling through the soundfield when Sean takes to his motorcycle. There are also some fun sound effects when the film plays backwards.
The Rules of Attraction Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Rules of Attraction Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I'll admit it: I wasn't expecting much from Rules of Attraction, and perhaps due to my preconceptions having set the bar rather low, I was more than pleasantly surprised with this film. The actors are wonderful, Avary does some really smart work here adapting a difficult source novel, and the tone is more or less right on throughout the film, despite an occasional foray into uncomfortable territory. Recommended.
The Rules of Attraction Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Cove, Rules of Attraction, Still Waiting Blu-ray Go Wide - February 16, 2011
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has announced the general Blu-ray release of The Cove, The Rules of Attraction and Still Waiting... for April 5. These three titles had been released on February 1 exclusively at Best Buy.
• Best Buy Starts Blu-ray Exclusive Page - January 31, 2011
Tomorrow, Blu-ray enthusiasts are expected to flock at the doors of Best Buy: no matter your film tastes, there is bound to be something at BB that you like and you won't find it anywhere else, as the retailer will offer over a dozen exclusive BD titles, from various ...
• Trio of Lionsgate Blu-ray Titles Exclusively at Best Buy - January 24, 2011
On February 1, Best Buy will offer exclusively three Blu-ray titles from the Lionsgate catalog: the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove (Louie Psihoyos, 2009); The Rules of Attraction (Roger Avary, 2002); and Still Waiting… (Jeff Balis, 2009). Disc details and the ...
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