Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
After the unabashed romance of Possession, writer-director Neil LaBute returned to his throne as the king of relationship nastiness — in unsparingly acidic form for 2003’s The Shape of Things.
Based on a play LaBute wrote, the movie boasted even more of his trademark verbal battles and characters giving into bad temptation. It also featured an increasingly rare dramatic performance from Paul Rudd — an actor who has flourished in comedy but seemingly been forgotten about when it comes to drama.
He’s Adam, a dorky college student who can’t believe the beautiful, quirky Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) would ever want to date him. So he thinks it’s only fair to follow through on her suggested improvements to his appearance.
But while his friends (Frederick Weller, Gretchen Mol) see nothing wrong with changing the clothes and the hair, it’s changing the body at which they bristle. Long-buried crushes and evil manipulation ultimately bubble to the surface.
The Shape of Things morphs into a stunning four-actor show of lust, anger and repression. Rudd is as convincing a shlub as a pretty boy. Weisz delights in deliciously uncharacteristic evil — a persona she hasn’t revisited since this film. Weller mixes doltish misogyny with searing social clarity. And Mol is appropriately twitchy and repressive.
Although it’s not LaBute’s finest work, even on an off day, he’s better than most. The Shape of Things examines — at times literally — just how much of ourselves we project onto art and the ethics of using emotions as commodities for creativity.