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Review: LaBute's 'Things' a sexy, creepy mix

Director once again shows dark side of relationships

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Shape of Things
Rachel Weisz remakes Paul Rudd in "The Shape of Things."

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(CNN) -- Writer/director Neil LaBute is one of America's most provocative playwrights and filmmakers.

His movies, beginning with "In The Company of Men" in 1997, then "Your Friends & Neighbors" (1998), "Nurse Betty" (2000), and "Possession" (2002), have explored the battle of the sexes on many levels, from the lightly comedic to the darkly dramatic.

With his latest effort, "The Shape of Things," LaBute returns to the dark side.

After the success of "In The Company of Men," which was about two cruel sexist pigs who play a nasty practical joke on a vulnerable woman, he was repeatedly asked if women were capable of the same type of deceitfulness. His answer is "The Shape of Things," based on his play of the same name. Both the play and the movie star Rachel Weisz, Paul Rudd, Gretchen Mol and Frederick Weller.

Set in a nameless college town, "The Shape of Things" begins in a museum, where Evelyn (Weisz) -- an intense young art graduate student working on her thesis -- is contemplating a statue of a male nude. She's not happy: the museum has covered the statue's genitalia with a large leaf.

Outraged at the move, she is about to deface the artwork with spray paint when she meets Adam (Rudd), a nerdy, needy fellow student who is working part-time at the museum. Despite their obvious differences, Adam is taken by the angry, beautiful Evelyn, and somehow manages to ask for her phone number -- which she promptly spray-paints onto the lining of his sports jacket.

Making him over

Shape of Things
Weisz's character, Evelyn, strikes up a friendship with Jenny (Gretchen Mol) in "The Shape of Things."

The two begin dating, and slowly the highly opinionated Evelyn starts making Adam over. She encourages him to change his hairstyle, the way he dresses, get contact lenses -- he even undergoes a nose job.

Adam's transformation begins to alarm his best friends, Jenny (Mol) and Philip (Weller), who are engaged to be married. While aware that the changes have improved Adam's appearance, they begin to question Evelyn's motives.

As Adam becomes more and more physically attractive, he also becomes more and more dependent upon Evelyn. At one point, he asks what she could possibly see in him, and Evelyn replies, "Don't worry about 'why,' when 'what' is right in front of you."

Eventually, the strange dynamic between Adam and Evelyn spills over into the relationship between Jenny and Philip, and the four find themselves becoming awkwardly involved in each other's lives. The tension builds until it reaches a climax that blows their world apart.

Top-notch creative team

At the heart of all of LaBute's work is his strong sense of dialogue and character. The situations may seem contrived at times, but his feel for human foibles never goes astray.

Director/writer Neil LaBute is known for his challenging, sometimes scathing movies, including "In the Company of Men" and "Your Friends and Neighbors."

He's also surrounded himself with the same creative team for most of his films, and in the case of "The Shape of Things," LaBute and his four actors have had lots of preparation since the play was mounted, first in London, and then in New York, where it won numerous awards. Weisz is also making her debut as a producer with this project.

LaBute has a knack for challenging our concepts of love and relationships, and for mixing entertainment with strong messages. This powerful look at society's obsession with looks -- with "the shape of things" -- will leave you with plenty of food for thought.

"The Shape of Things" opens in select markets on Friday, May 9, with more cities added later. The film is rated "R" for language.

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