The Rules of Attraction (2002)

Whoever thought that Dawson would end up being Christian Bale’s little bro.

Set in a small, affluent liberal-arts university in present-day New England, USA, where three students named Sean (James Van Der Beek), Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), and Paul (Ian Somerhalder) who have no plans for the future – or even the present – become entangled in a curious romantic triangle.

If you don’t know who Bret Easton Ellis is by now, go on over to Wikipedia and check him out. He’s the writer of several novels like Less Than Zero, American Psycho, and The Informers. Basically this guy is a fucked up dude who sees the world differently than I can say I do, but I also got to give him a lot of respect because this damn guy is original and it’s even better when you have an original director to help out with the adaptation.

Writer/director Roger Avary is one of the main reasons why this film works so well because he gets inside the mind of Ellis and sees the world through his eyes. Everything is mean, nasty, cruel, but also very very dark in a way that is like unlike any other flick I have seen in quite some time. On the surface, this is a college flick that shows non-stop debauchery, hell, probably a lot more debauchery than ‘Project X’, but underneath it all is actual themes about how people can never connect and these characters are perfect examples of that. They all try to connect to one another and actually be noticed, but somehow, it never works out whether it’s bad timing, miscommunication, a tongue slip, or just a total fuck up which makes everything go to shit. It’s sad to say it but this film is more brutally honest than I ever expected it to be and it was very hard to not agree with what this film was trying to say.

But as I said, this film is also about non-stop debauchery and when I mean debauchery I mean everything such as snortin’ cocaine, drinking beer, having sex, partying, snortin’ cocaine, drinking beer, having sex, and so on and so forth. There is so much of that here but it works for the film because it not only adds to the whole central theme of the flick but it also takes us into this satirical world of college that Ellis has created. These kids never go to class, any time we ever see them they’re doing something bad, and when they aren’t doing something bad, in their heads their planning on doing something bad next. It was funny how Ellis just makes fun of how young adults are, especially ones in college, but the humor isn’t obvious at all, actually it’s the kind of humor that’s pitch black and is almost too dark to understand at first. The inner-thoughts that go through these kids minds is funny because of how short-minded they are but it’s also very sad because it’s true and it seemed like every time I got a laugh out of this flick, I sat there and thought that I shouldn’t be laughing because this film is basically making fun of me as well. Hey!!!

The screenplay is awesome and fits Ellis’ style but it’s the style and inspired direction of Roger Avary that really got me here. I can’t say that this film is filled with a style that is unlike any other film you have ever seen before, but there are some pretty inventive things that Avary does here with this story that gives it that extra kick. For example: Avary uses this technique where he plays forward with his camera then rewinds it in a different place and does the same thing to other scenes. This was a technique used in ‘Memento’ but for this flick, Avary gave it this very weird and bizarre feel that not only made me feel like this director could do anything but he actually will too. There’s plenty of other memorable scenes where Avary uses a split-screen to show us the difference between fantasy and reality (hello 500 Days of Summer), a Trainspotting nod, a scene where a snow flake falls down Van Der Beek’s face to melt into a tear in a very emotional scene, a long but quick-paced montage about a dude who went to Europe and all of his experiences, and one of the best “love at first sight” scenes that I have seen in a long, long time. That’s right, a movie that is based off of a novel from the same dude who gave us Patrick Bateman, has one of the better “love at first sight” scenes I have recently seen. Don’t understand it either but it’s something that Avary did here that made it work.

However, as much praise as I may be giving this flick, there was still a huge problem in the end. Earlier I said that this film is basically non-stop debauchery, and as perfect as that idea may have suited this film, it als0 leaved a lot to be desired. This film has no plot, and while it does move at a regular pace, nothing really goes down other than all of the crap that I mentioned earlier. It takes us inside this world of these obvious, loser kids but it still doesn’t really do anything for this film to keep it’s story going and it was sort of a bummer in the end because there could have been a really solid story to work with here in the first place.

Another problem I had with this story was that I think it also lost a lot of focus here because even though it’s supposed to be focusing on these three characters, it mainly puts Sean Bateman in the front, and everybody else in the back or not there at all. I get it that Bateman is basically the notorious asshole here, but there was a good 20 minutes where they didn’t even include Paul, and barely even had Lauren show up either. It was a shame that not only was there barely any story here at all, but it’s even more a shame that they try to sell this as a love triangle, when they barley focus on it or even anybody else other than Sean for that matter.

The cast is a bit odd on paper, but they all do perfectly with each of their incredibly sad and depressing characters. Shannyn Sossamon was absolutely likable and believable as the sweet and innocent virgin gal, that definitely seems like a chick I would love to just hang-out with and maybe give a hug too as well, since the whole time she seemed like she needed one. Ian Somerhalder is pretty solid as Paul, and was definitely giving off those homosexual winks at everyone around him and it worked because this character was weird but also very sad. Jessica Biel may seem like a strange choice for a total slut in a college flick, but she’s actually very good and creates a wholly unlikable character in Lara. Then again, everybody else in this flick is basically unlikable as well so she basically already had her hand in the bag.

The best performance out of this whole cast that really did shock me more than anything was probably James Van Der Beek‘s amazing performance as Sean Bateman. Yes, Dawson is the one dude in this flick, who goes to college to fuck everything up and succeeds at it. I didn’t think I was going to believe it when I was watching this, but slowly and surely, I started to really believe just how sick, effed up, and mean this character was but I also couldn’t hate him since Van Der Beek plays him with such charm and likability, much like Bale did with Patrick Bateman. This is one of the best “against type” roles that I have ever seen and Van Der Beek nails what it’s like to be a person that is angry with everything in the world, especially yourself. I’m a little ashamed to say it, but dare I say that I was actually a bit scared of him here as well…? Great performance and it’s an honest shame that he hasn’t gotten any big roles since this because this definitely should have knocked him back up in the books.

Consensus: The story is basically non-existent but where The Rules of Attraction works in is it’s inspired writing and directing work done by the wonderfully stylized, Roger Avary, and a cast that makes this more than just another film trying hard to be mean and hard to watch, it’s one that may make you look at college and young people in a different way. Still, can’t say that it’s everyone’s cup of tea either.



  1. Rules of Attraction does some very interesting cinematic tricks. The scene where everything is rewound and shown from different angles is fun and so is Victor’s insane trip to Europe. Some great surprise performances are Fred Savage as the drugee and Clifton Collins Jr. as the coke dealing psycho. I used to hate the ending and felt like it was a bit of a cop out, but it has grown on me over the years.

  2. “Whoever thought that Dawson would end up being Christian Bale’s little bro.” I have to admit that made me laugh out loud… I was a little disappointed with this film, it’s not in the same league, for me, as American Psycho, but AP is the better book, I suppose, so maybe that’s why.

    • American Psycho and this film are both in the same field, I think, but both are totally different from one another and what they satirize.

  3. I can’t hear “Without You” without instantly thinking of the suicide scene. Also, I wanted to point out a major omission in your review. You neglected to mention that pornstar Holly Hollywood was an extra in the film. One of the few hardcore stars to appear in a mainstream film. Okay, it may not be a major omission but people should know these things dammit.

    • Oh damn! You are so right, sorry about that Dusty! Then again, I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to call this a mainstream flick.

  4. Another good film thjat is often oiverlooked because people don’t want to try out a star like Van der Beek in a more intense role; this it is for sure. Sommerholder was very good and this sad love triangle pulled you in. For a very realistic love triangle story check out “Les Amours Imaginaires (Heartbeats). Your reviews make me want to check both again from my collection.

  5. Sommerholder or what ever his name is went on to The Vampire Diaries. Does that count as not much LOL? Yes Rules of Attraction was ahead of it’s time. Remember Ryan Philippe started as a gay teen character on One Life to Live. Also groud breaking at the time.

      • I watched it again last night and saw more than a few know names. The tall geeky guy Eric Szmanda from CSI is there, Canadian Jay Baruchel, Thomas Ian Nicholas from American Pies and how could we have forgotten Eric Stoltz? My DVD has four sets of commentary tracks so that will have more watching to do. Cheers …

  6. The best aspect to the film was Victor’s European trip montage. Kip Pardue was pitch perfect in that small role as Victor. But then again, virtually everyone hit the right notes in their respective roles. It’s definitely an underrated film. I hope to see Glitterati one of these days (an extended version of that montage where Victor sleeps around Europe).

  7. They shot so much of the European footage with Victor that there’s supposedly an entire movie that Avary edited out of it, filled with references to Glamorama, Ellis’s later novel about Victor’s life as a fashion model in the 90s. I’ve been a huge fan of Ellis since I read Less Than Zero the first winter break I had back home from college (the novel being set during the narrator’s first winter break home from college). Nearly had a rage embollism when I saw the horrible anti-drug PSA that was the film adaptation (though Downey was good). The literary sequel, Imperial Bedrooms, did a good job owning up to and disavowing the movie simultaneously. Anyway his books are worth reading.

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