‘The Shape of Things’ goes from stage to screen with entertaining grace

Rachel Weisz and Paul Rudd star in 'The Shape of Things'
Rachel Weisz and Paul Rudd star in ‘The Shape of Things’

The Shape of Things first sparked my interest when it was playing off-Broadway on the New York stage. I found it curious that film stars Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz were giving the stage a shot in roles that seemed completely out-of-character. I missed the chance to see the story unfold on stage, only to find out that it was debuting in theaters shortly after with the original cast.

The film opens with a rebellious MFA student Evelyn (Weisz) surveying what she has deemed “fake” art in a museum. She plans to deface a sculpture to make a point. Paul Rudd enters to stop her as Adam, an anxious, nerdy museum guard. Somehow, a quirky courtship begins.

The quirky courtship quickly becomes frightening. Evelyn is a twisted Henry Higgins sculpting a new Adam before our eyes. Adam becomes more and more good-looking. His personality alters as the changes to his appearance become more drastic. She doesn’t stop at changing his attire. She wants to change his friends, his life and, well, his nose. While she molds him like clay, all signs point to a dangerous turn of events that’s about as far as you can get from My Fair Lady.

The newly affianced Jenny (Mol) and Phillip (Weller) are Adam’s friends, alarmed by the rapid changes they are observing in Adam. At first, they tiptoe around the fact that they know it’s all Evelyn’s doing. That all goes out the window when they realize they dislike Evelyn. The feeling is mutual. Jenny is a sweet and unassuming contrast to Evelyn’s biting character. Phillip is already the self-centered playboy before Adam begins to develop his weakness of character.

The Shape of Things is director/writer Neil LaBute’s commentary on our superficial society is powerful and shocking. It is only mildly hampered by the clipped dialogue of the characters, which seem out-of-place in their surroundings. The Shape of Things still feels more like a play than a film on-screen. The film flounders until the characters backstab each other with a foray in infidelity that culminates in emotional violence and a surprising, disturbing twist.

Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz both deliver spectacular performances in this film. The final confrontation between them brings a whole new meaning to “breaking up is hard to do.” Rudd is dazzling to watch as he erupts with a range of painful emotions both beautifully and articulately. As Adam, he is sympathetic though morally questionable. Through Adam, LaBute strikes at society’s moral code and makes it as questionable.

But it is Weisz as Evelyn that LaBute utilizes as a weapon. She follows Rudd’s cue to give what I believe is her best performance to date. Evelyn would scare Hannibal Lector on a good day. She is the creepy crawly sort of character that sneaks under your skin and tortures your soul long after the film credits roll. I still get shivers thinking about her.

The Shape of Things is a monstrous social experiment meant to keep all of us on our toes. It is thought provoking and unsettling, growing from subtle nuance to a final, vicious blow. A new form of fable, The Shape of Things is sickening, entertaining and educational.

LaBute breaks it all down for us on the DVD in great detail. Paul Rudd also offers an actor’s perspective on the DVD commentary. The Welcome to Mercy College featurette feels like a school video tour and stars the film’s fractured foursome. The Shape of Things >From Stage to Screen: An Introduction by Neil LaBute gives us an all access, backstage pass to the transition from stage to screen. It’s an especially fun special feature for those who love to see how everything comes together.

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