Sexual Embarrassment 

The Shape of Manipulation

The Shape of Things

dir. LaBute

Opens Fri May 9

Various Theaters

Filmmaker Neil LaBute made his name with films like In the Company of Men and Your Friends & Neighbors, in which immoral and amoral behavior motorize provocative parables about modern morality. His new film, The Shape of Things, continues in this vein (after the semi-departures of Possession and Nurse Betty). Based on LaBute's own play, Shape's surprise plot twist turns on an act of emotional cruelty so savage and unexpected that it recasts the entire film and practically mandates a second viewing. Above all, the climactic turn forces viewers to confront not only their own romantic insecurities, but also their own capacity for manipulation--cinematic and otherwise.

LaBute flips the script somewhat by arguing that women are just as capable of being complete pricks as men are. Schlubby Adam (Paul Rudd) and hottie Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) have an unlikely affair, during which Adam loses weight, gets a nose job, dresses better, and ditches his friends--all at Evie's behest. But this self-improvement campaign comes at a price that only the most insecure paranoiac alive could swallow (much less predict).

LaBute's climax retroactively changes the entire film. It makes its troubling theatrical conceits seem like intentional diversions, and forces the audience to decide whether the movie was merely a filmed play or some kind of Skinner box. I must say that the big twist pissed me off initially, in much the same way that the surprise in Fight Club did. Afterwards, however, I found myself wrestling with The Shape of Things for days.

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