Whoah, it’s been a busy weekend, moviewise, so in addition to my treatise on The Hulk
(yes, phyrephox, it’s The Hulk
to me, stupid movies leaving off the proper article of a title, this is why American schoolchildren have fallen so far behind the rest of the world) I have some short comments on two other films that I managed to see this weekend, The Shape of Things
and The Man Without a Past
(sadly, I missed Irreversible
, which I thought would play here more than one week).
The Shape of Things
This film is perhaps my favorite Neil LaBute film; it’s certainly better than his recent output, and, in my estimation, it’s also better than In the Company of Men
and Your Friends and Neighbors
(with the former being better than the later), the two films that LaBute’s filmmaking reputation is based upon. Why? It’s complicated, for one thing, the Aaron Eckhart character of In the Company of Men
is a compelling character and a monster, but not a human monster, he’s more the shark-like predator, devouring everything without remorse (quite literally, since he’s presented as eating something in most of his scenes). Some critics have posited The Shape of Things
as something of a feminine inversion of In the Company of Men
, but I don’t think this is correct; this is not an instance of the shoe on the other foot, or showing that a women can be just as shitty as a corporate sociopath. For one thing the misogyny of Eckhart’s character was a cloak for his predation upon his weaker male co-worker(s). But more importantly, Rachel Weisz’s character, who is as easily as manipulative as Eckhart’s, seems genuinely ambivalent about her own machinations, unlike Eckhart’s character, who can simply shrug off his friend/coworker’s frantic phone call and go back to bed with the girlfriend he’s been cheating on for weeks. I think that Weisz’s “Evelyn” is a monster, but unlike Eckhart, she’s a human monster.
I also think that LaBute had a very different message in mind when he created The Shape of Things
, encapsulated by the Hans Suyin quote that features prominently in the last, scathing scene: “Moralists Have No Place in an Art Gallery.” The way the scene plays out in front of the quote (it’s painted in large letters on the wall of the gallery) and I took it as an ironic statement, given the dynamic of the scene, the confrontation between victim and victimizer. Evelyn’s defense of her human sculpture, based on the autonomy and distanciation of art, is devoid of morals and ethics (I’d actually find it hard to believe that her art advisors would approve of her project); her internalization of that ethos has seriously retarded her ability to make the distinction between right and wrong (she’s basically a sociopath with an MFA; though the she, ultimately, does have a point about our societal concern for the surface of things, I caught myself thinking that “hey, at least [Adam] is good looking now.”) I was particularly struck by Adam’s assertion that she should be a better person, not better like him, but just better. I think that LaBute is saying that morality and ethics are central to art, and the lack of morality can lead to monstrosity (I also think that LaBute points out the difference between moralism in art and morality in art; going back to the beginning of the film and plaster-fig leaf covering the sculpture’s penis).
In general, I liked the film a lot. I generally agree with André Bazin that when filming theater, keep it theatrical, so I was glad that LaBute kept his four-part play intact and really didn’t open up the play too much (for example, leaving the drive to the beach out). Despite my hatred of Weisz’s nasally attempt at a Midwestern accent, I really liked her performance; I could readily agree with Adam’s assertion that she was a “fucking cunt,” but I also felt sorry for her. Paul Rudd was great as the naive Mormon caught in Evelyn’s web of lies, after this film and being one of the few really funny elements of this season’s Friends
, he deserves more stardom. Frederick Weller, who for some reason reminds me of Barry Pepper, nailed the shallow frat-boy character, and Gretchen Mol was cute and desirable (though I have to say, that Adam and Jenny’s previous attraction kind of undercuts a central part of Evelyn’s thesis), like the girl next door. One last thing, though, what’s up with LaBute and accompanying his film with music by one group: you got the rhythmic drums of In the Company of Men
, the string quartet doing Metallica covers in Your Friends and Neighbors
, and Elvis Costello throughout The Shape of Things
The Man Without a Past
Not a whole lot I want to add to this movie, phyrephox’s earlier review pretty much summed it up for me. This is actually my first real experience with Kaurismaki; it took me about 20 minutes before I shut off the video for Leningrad Cowboys Go America
. Perhaps I need to revisit that earlier film, but here, Kaurismaki’s style pays off. The deadpan humor, the way everyone moves and talks so deliberately, and the expressiveness of the actor’s faces. It kind of sneaks up on you, but the movie is very funny in retrospect, without losing a certain sense of bleakness; it’s also a very sweet, simple love story between M and Irma. Here’s to the liberating effects of Rock N’ Roll!