Bret Easton Ellis has pretty much cornered the market on books about White people with too much money, too much time, and easy access to too many drugs. The Rules of Attraction is no different, except that the people in this novel are college students of varying degrees of fucked-up. Putting this work to film should be easy in theory, but far too often, actors miss the mark when it comes to the nihilism and depravity of so many of Easton’s characters. Again, The Rules of Attraction is no different.
The film kicks off with three main protagonists: Lauren Hynde (Shannyn Sossamon), Paul Denton (Ian Somerhalder), and Sean Bateman* (James van der Beek). At least, there’s supposed to be three protagonists, but the film quickly devolves in the woes of kind narcissist Paul, the sorrows of self-absorbed sociopath Sean, or the life and times of Lauren, depending on what mood you’re in. It’s next to impossible to watch this film without focusing on just one of these three, while being deeply annoyed with the other two. Paul wants Sean, and Sean and Lauren want one another, but Sean is oblivious to Paul’s feelings. Sean is both ignorant of Lauren’s boyfriend, Victor (Kip Pardue), and the fact that the secret admirer who has been sending him love notes isn’t Lauren, trying to tease him, as he imagines, but is instead some nameless girl who is deeply infatuated with him. This story of a would-be love triangle is really just a fractured love square, centered around a host of misunderstandings and terrible timing.
In Lauren, Paul, and Sean, we meet three people who think themselves deserving of affection, but think that the people they want, (Victor/Sean, Sean, and Lauren, respectively) should just magically know their feelings and reciprocate them. The issue is compounded in Paul’s case, since he has the tragic misfortune of mistaking friendliness for sexual interest. No one in this film actually makes an effort to be honest about their feelings at all, at least, not until the situation is too far gone for them to matter, and the various games of coy subterfuge they play all inevitably backfire. Even Sean’s nameless admirer is upset that, while she has never introduced herself to him, or even had the courage to make eye contact with him, he should just know how she feels and who the letters are from. Lauren wants Sean but also wants Victor, whom she hasn’t seen or heard form in over a semester, but still refers to as her boyfriend. I swear, in one from or fashion, literally everyone in this film is divorced from reality.
Clearly, The Rules of Attraction are that there are no rules, that no formula or game can win you your heart’s desire. Everyone made their lives so much harder than they would have been if they’d just been honest and transparent with each other, and themselves. The Rule of Attraction overfloweth with privileged White fuckery, and is probably the film in which all three leads gave the worst performance of their filmographies, and yet the film is strangely entertaining, even if it’s just to watch everyone lie to themselves.
I give this one 2.75 stars.
*= Yes, he is related to that Bateman.