Rachel Weisz radiates intelligence as intensely in person as she does in her film roles. Hardly surprising considering that she took top honors at Cambridge. When I spoke with her on April 14, 2003, it was to promote THE SHAPE OF THINGS, but I couldn’t help asking about another film of hers that was also about to be released, CONFIDENCE. In both she plays characters who are not what they seem, which led to a discussion about the nature of reality as well as some stage work from her university years that left her audiences breathless.
Neil LaBute starts his latest film, THE SHAPE OF THINGS, off with a sly dig at what the story is going to be about. His stars are not given character names in the credits, they’re listed as “actress” or “actor” in much the same way that credits traditionally list “director” or “writer”, both of which LaBute is here. This is artifice, and mannered at that, make no mistake. He then gives us a conversation between Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz that obliquely tells us everything we need to know about what will unfold.
Weisz is a comely bohemian of a graduate art student. Rudd is a yutz of an undergrad earning some extra bucks as a museum security guard. Their paths cross when Weisz crosses a line in front of a Renaissance statue and prepares to deface it with some spray paint. Well, not the whole statue, just the strategically placed plaster fig leaf that was added later to satisfy some conservative art lovers. The leaf, Weisz calmly explains as she shakes the can in preparation for the deed, is not part of statue. It’s artifice, hence intrinsically offensive, and badly placed at that. You can still see the shape of his thing. A tidy little play on the title of the film, and not the only one.
By the end the definitions of art, artifice, truth and violation are up for grabs, not to mention love, friendship and good intentions. How much of real or reel life can >be< real and how much must of necessity be subjective? And how should we feel about this (yet another subjective trap, or is it?). The only direct answer LaBute gives is to have one of his characters look directly into the camera and say that the only offensive reaction to art (read film) is indifference and then flip us the bird with both fingers. It might also apply to Labute’s attitude towards the critical reaction he’s received for his auteur films, IN THE COMPANY OF MEN and YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS. People either loved or hated them and that depth of polarized passion seems to please LaBute no end. As far as he’s concerned, he’s doing something right and I couldn’t agree more.