The Rules of Attraction
***.4 GM
Starring: James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Ian Somerhalder, Jessica Biel, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Clifton Collins Jr., Fred Savage, Eric Stoltz, Faye Dunaway, Swoozie Kurtz, Kip Pardue, Kate Bosworth, Russell Sams


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I had a bad feeling going into this film. I have a strong distaste for generic debauchery-as-hip-cool-cutting-edge-stylized-please-talk-about-this-movie-like-it's-somehow-important bullshit stories soaked in drugs, booze and assholes. I usually want to punch them. This started out looking the same way - lots of backwards-winding zany cinematography and some straight-up disgusting depravity right off the bat. So I started to settle in and prepare to hate self-important collegiate bumblefucks wax just-read-it-in-philosophy-class intellectual while knocking back pills and blow to counteract the thought that they might be too smart to be cool. They're intelligent, but they're doing all sorts of drugs, so they must still be popular and interesting.

I'd started to prepare for that, but it turned out to be not exactly what I got. Most of the characters turn out to be as confused, misguided and dopey as they're acting, which is refreshing on one end, and the events of the film are just so fucking WEIRD that I honestly never knew what the hell was coming next, and that's always a relief.

The story is thus: A bunch of college kids are surly and sour and experiencing extreme lows in their lives at the end of the semester, and then we rewind and see the events that led them up to these sad sack moments. Lauren (Sossamon) is drunk off her ass, passes out, and wakes up to losing her virginity to some drunk schlub rapist while it's being filmed. Sean (Van Der Beek) is a beaten-up bruised drug dealer who dubs himself an "emotional vampire" and seeks out a willing but unsatisfying conquest (Bosworth). Paul (Somerhalder) is a frustrated gay man trying to seduce a football player only to be met with an all-too-angry response. In the periphery are Lauren's slut-bag roommate Lara (Biel), Sean's angry supplier (Collins) and Paul's ex-freak Dick (Sams), not to mention Sean's secret admirer, Lauren's old boyfriend Victor (Pardue) and a drug-addled cameo by Fred Savage in what I can only hope is the rebirth of his career.

I was expecting to have reservations about Dawson's Crack playing edgy bastard, but he actually did a bang-up job at the dark brooding as well as the insane goofball weirdness. His refusal to get out of Mitchell's (Nicholas) banana car after the deal gone sour is just perfect obnoxious crazy shit that I couldn't help but laugh at. I did a lot of laughing in this film, to my surprise, because shit just kept coming in out of nowhere. Nothing cracked me up more, though, than "Dick," Paul's whacked-out compadre that shows up for a couple of sequences that make very little sense, and that's the kind of humor I like best. The guy's blitzed, and he's talking and singing and acting like a complete weirdo, and I just couldn't stop cackling at him. I was really sad he only got the few minutes of screen time he did, because he was easily the most entertaining part of the film.

The ultimate point of this film seems to be to showcase the colossal emptiness in the lives of wastoid morons like this, which is nothing short of miraculous to see in the film world that tends to equate this crap with being "on the cutting edge." These characters are generally dipshits, and this would be annoying if they were supposed to be cool, but they're not. It's just a colossal downward spiral of mistakes, miscalculations and mental misfires for everybody. Lauren is a blow-fiend hung up on some Euro-bum and thinks she's in love with Sean though she barely knows him, Sean gets secret admirer notes and thinks he falls in love with Lauren when he guesses she wrote them, yet can't ever seem to hook up with her, and Paul desperately holds onto the misconception that Sean is actually interested in hooking up with HIM. Vicious cycles, a pattern of patheticity, if you will.

Shannyn Sossamon is weird. I hadn't seen her in a movie before, but every picture I'd seen of her put me on edge and made me grimace for some reason I haven't quite figured out. I had planned on being bothered by her, but that never really materialized (outside of thinking her character was bothersome, but she was supposed to be). Somerhalder's Paul is perhaps the most likeable character in the film, and even he has this detached self-centered non-chalance when his roommate ODs. Having a dance party to George Michael's "Faith" goes a long way towards repairing any reputational harm done by choosing a date with Dawson over getting a friend to the hospital.

It might have been my low expectations that made this film work for me, but I tend to think it was because there was so much off-the-wall insanity leaping in and out of this film at random intervals, not to mention the fact it doesn't try to make you root for any of the assholes it centers around, yet still manages to be funny. Laugh at the drunkards and their bankrupt existences, because they were laughing at you in high school.

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