A review of “The Shape of Things” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language and nudity

Run Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

 

 

Neil LaBute loves to stir up controversy.  He came out of the box with a bang with the misogynistic “In the Company of Men” (1997) and never looked back, moving on to such divisive fare as “Your Friends and Neighbors” and the darkly nuanced “Nurse Betty”.  Fortunately, “Shape” has LaBute’s fingerprints all over its nasty little narrative.

A geeky museum guard cum undergraduate English major (Paul Rudd as Adam) meets a feminist art student (Rachel Weisz as Evelyn) hovering near a graphically imposing statue at a university gallery, poised to deface the priceless sculpture (in the name of her art) with a can of red spray paint.  Though Adam’s head tells him to stop her, his heart steers him in a different direction…to drum up the nerve to ask for her phone number.

That first date signals a monumental rite of passage for the unassuming Adam.  With Evelyn’s subtle guidance, he loses weight, changes his hair, and even goes under the knife for the thrill of it.  Seems innocent enough on the surface, but Evelyn’s benign guardianship screams hidden agenda --- involving Adam’s work, his friends, and the prickly evolution of emotion.

“Shape” has a lot to say about love, lust and duplicity.  Its catch phrase, “Is seduction an art?” neatly captures La Bute’s fondness for dissecting sexual manipulation, not to mention his uncommon zeal for the unsightly underbelly of courtly romance.

Based on LaBute’s own stage play of the same name, “Shape” occasionally veers into artificial sermonizing that fosters separation between viewer and character.  But excellent performances by Weisz (whose simple conceits are infuriating) and Rudd (whose needy squeaky-cleanness is unexpectedly endearing) capture a colluded mood, and the fallout from the discomfiting climax lingers long after the lights have come up.