This is a movie so bizarre that I had to watch it twice. On the surface, it looks like just another romantic comedy. What The Shape of Things truly contains, however, is one of the most insane, painful, and intense twists I've ever seen in a movie. It is so overwhelming that I just can't write a review about it without the twist and the reveal of it being part of my writing. Consequently, if this sounds at all intriguing to you, stop reading this review right now and go watch it. You'll likely be as floored as I was and I also went into it ahead of time knowing there was some sort of twist. But nothing like this.
Spoilers from this point onward.
Seeing Both Sides - Adam
“If you feel it, it's not stupid.”
When I watched this the first time, I was crushed. It seemed like there was nothing more hateful or sadistic someone could do than enter into a relationship and have the whole thing be a sham, a falsehood designed specifically to, what, ace a goddamn senior thesis? Everyone puts their all into their relationships, particularly their romantic ones. To be so used and manipulated seemed the ultimate travesty and the worst possible thing you could do to someone.
Consequently, my sympathy lied with Adam. Sure, he made mistakes along the way, but he, at Evelyn's pulling of the strings, twists himself into something he would not have normally, all in the name of love. Though he hints at other encounters/relationships with women, it is painfully aware that this is Adam's first intense and serious relationship. He is nauseatingly awkward and so earnest as to make you want to slap him in the face. But he goes into it with the utmost determination to make it work, no matter the odds.
With that sort of resolve, it was incredibly awful to watch as Evelyn, at the end, reveals that all of it was a sham and a mockery of everything he put into the relationship. This is a man whose social life crumbled and who was forced to lay aside his friends in order to stay with Evelyn. When he curses at Evelyn for everything that she has done, you can't help but put yourself behind every vicious profanity.
Seeing Both Sides – Evelyn
“Don't worry about 'why' when 'what' is right in front of you.”
Watching it the second time provided a more mixed conclusion. It is interesting to watch that, in her own way, Evelyn hints at what is going on the entire time. Cleverly hidden in her dialogue are blatant and direct statements of what she is doing to him and what she plans to do. It is hard to gauge how fair this is, however. How could Adam possibly guess or gather that she's faking a relationship with him in order to prove a point to society? Doesn't that make her sadistic? Emotionally toying with the uncomprehending Adam? However, as a consequence, Adam can't claim precisely that she never said what she was all about. With the benefit of hindsight, one can see that she was honest with him. The tragedy is that he never gathered what was going on until it was too late.
It is clear that the director's sympathy is with Evelyn. She is the only character with any true complexity. Her philosophy permeates the movie and her personal bone to pick with the world is in the very title of the movie. And the scary part is that she's right. We, as a culture, are perpetually absorbed with how people appear to be and how they portray themselves. We may wonder endlessly about who somebody is truly, deep inside, but the truth is that we are inculcated to be interested only in what we expect to see.
Another facet of Evelyn's (and, by extension, the director's) point is that those people who most closely provide a reflection of what society wants to see are those who are in the best position to take advantage of it, and they often do. This is evidenced in how Adam, who is the epitome of “good” at the beginning, becomes more willing to make morally ambiguous decisions when Evelyn coerces him into looking more attractive. While it is never proven, it is heavily implied that Adam cheated on Evelyn with his best friend's fiancee, something that would likely have never happened with the Adam we see at the beginning of the film. The Shape of Things provides an unusual twist to the old adage that power corrupts; with the power of surface appeal, Adam gives in to the temptation to use it, even to the detriment of what, to him, is a perfectly great relationship.
Seeing All Sides – Phillip
“I just hope the next time we pass each other, I recognize who the hell you are.”
One easy thing to miss is that Adam's best friend, Phillip, is perhaps the greatest example of this message that the director is trying to bring across. Though his first few scenes cast him as an incredibly annoying and shallow asshole, he strangely becomes the most sympathetic character of them all by the end of the movie. The truth is that, more than anyone else, Phillip recognizes that Adam is warping and changing himself in unusual ways for Evelyn when really he should just be himself and be true to that. Phillip's method of confronting Adam is often abrasive and confrontational, but it is loyal and honest. And Phillip never stops trying to reach him, even when Adam lies to his face repeatedly for much of the second half of the movie.
This makes Phillip incredibly admirable and helps to illustrate that, despite his surface appearance of the uncaring asshole jock, Phillip is, on the inside, not a bad guy at all. What's funny is that this didn't hit me until the second time I watched the movie; the first time I dismissed him as an annoying prick and left it at that. Do you see what happened there? I fell for it. The “shape of things” or “surface of things” was that Phillip was an asshole and so I automatically turned off any effort to look beyond that. That very action and instinct is precisely what Evelyn opposes. The culture of superficial judgment.
“He is now a living example of people's obsession with the surface of things.”
The Shape of Things... I still am not sure what the hell kind of movie this is. It sure isn't a romantic comedy, but neither does it feel like a drama. It is highly unique, incredibly poignant while simultaneously repugnant. It makes you wince with how awkward it can be and yet keep you completely glued to your seat, watching in rapt attention and disbelief. Rachel Weisz pulls off the most quirky, bizarre, and “off” girl I've ever seen. Paul Rudd creates the most awkward yet genuine guy ever. And the supporting cast easily holds their own without getting overshadowed.
The Shape of Things is a movie that makes you think and ascribes to a very powerful message that we don't hear often enough. I highly recommend this to anyone who can stomach wrenching emotional disturbance in the name of learning something true about yourself and the society around you.