The Rules Of Attraction


Directed by: Roger Avary
Written by:Roger Avary
Starring: James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel, Ian Somerhalder, Kate Bosworth, Fred Savage, Kip Pardue, Thomas Ian Nicholas
Released: February 20, 2003
Grade: A-

Two years ago, I read a remarkable novel called American Psycho, written by young writer Bret Easton Ellis and first published in 1991.  It was an incredible parody of early 80s culture and the those who saw the cinematic adaptation (starring Christian Bale) will have a sense of Ellis’s witty humour.  An instant Ellis fan, I was soon attracted to his other works and his 1987 novel, The Rules Of Attraction, was next on my shopping list.

Like American Psycho, Attraction is set in the 80s and a depressingly hilarious look at campus life.  Sean Bateman (Van Der Beek) is a womanising, beer-drinking, drug-taking guy.  He never attends any classes and primes himself for the campus’s big parties.  Of late, he’s been receiving anonymous love letters is his mail box, and the intrigue having an effect on him – he’s developing an unusual feeling of “attraction” to this person even though he doesn’t know who they are.

Lauren Hynde (Sossamon) is more studious that Sean but equally messed up.  She’s developed an obsessive infatuation for Victor Johnson (Pardue), another campus party animal.  She has pictures of him on her bed-side table and is saving her virginity for him.  The trouble is, they haven’t even met.  With Victor in Europe on holidays, Lauren’s slutty flat-mate, Lara Holleran (Biel), suggests she move on and Lauren concedes there’s another guy she has an “attraction” to, Sean Bateman.

Paul Denton (Somerhalder) is a stylish bi-sexual who once dated Lauren.  Now, he has his eyes on the opposite gender but continues his aimless pursuit of falling for straight guys.  His latest “attraction” is Sean Bateman, who he senses isn’t gay, but goes for anyway.  Paul and Sean are completely incompatible people but he lives under the warped illusion they would be perfect together.

Director Roger Avary won an Academy Award in 1994 when he co-wrote Pulp Fiction with Quentin Tarantino.  As Fiction showed us, Avary has a bold, unconventional vision which makes him an ideal choice to create The Rules Of Attraction.  For instance, the film begins with a lengthy 15 minute scene which introduces the characters before the opening credits even roll.  This opening is inspired and uses an awesome mix of forward and backward motion.  Throughout, Avary is always using fresh ideas, with the best being a split-screen scene involving Van Der Beek and Sossamon.  Film aficionados will love it.

James Van Deer Beek chose the role to shrug off the stigma one gets stuck with when starring on a long-running TV series.  So too did 7th Heaven star Jessica Biel.  Both should be proud of their performances.  Against the backdrop of this depressing messed-up characters, Avery finds humour and this is highlighted by two scenes (one in a hotel room and one in a restaurant) involving Ian Somerhalder and friend, Dick (played by Russell Sams).  There’s also an awesome 3-minute montage featuring Kip Pardue in Europe which Avary is going to expand into a full length feature later this year.

After seeing interviews with the crew and cast, this film is an attempt to break away from “safe” teen films.  That is, those teen films that are either a light-hearted romantic comedy or gross-out silly comedy.  These films have their place in movie theatres but too many of them are produced these days.  They are an unrealistic depiction of teen life and their perfection can leave many influential teenagers wondering why their lives aren’t so flawless.

The Rules Of Attraction is a more honest flick but unfortunately, the Australian censors have declared it unfit for a teen audience by rating it R.  It’s the ultimate irony.  When a guy screws a pie, it’s ok to show but if a guy rapes an unconscious girl (as in Attraction), then it’s not ok.  Beats me.