The Crushed Film Festival presents: The Rules of Attraction
by John "the Couch Baron" Ramos
The Movie: The Rules Of Attraction
The Crush Object: Ian Somerhalder
The Story: Even calling it "a story" is being generous, but basically, it's about several self-absorbed college students who drink and have sex a lot. There are only three characters developed beyond the merest cipher: Sean, played by James Van Der Beek (…yeah), Lauren, played by Shannyn Sossamon, and Paul, played by Somerhalder. The film is "rounded out" by the likes of Jessica Biel, Thomas Ian Nicholas, and Kate Bosworth (who's on the DVD cover despite having less screen time than the title card).
The Beek's character supposedly has to sell drugs to pay for college, although his interest in academics seems tepid at absolute best; he's also a self-described "emotional vampire," and I won't bother making the obvious comment about his acting because you all probably beat me to it. Somerhalder, despite this and The Beek's incredibly bushy eyebrows, has a crush on him. He's not the only one, as a random girl leaves secret mash notes for The Beek throughout the first part of the film and then, distraught at him hooking up with someone else, offs herself bloodily in the bathtub. Think about that — she killed herself over The Beek. That is a sorry state of affairs, there. ["I considered it several times back in the day, but for different reasons, obviously." -- ed.] I mean, this is a dude who asks of Sossamon in all seriousness: "Since when does fucking someone else mean I'm not faithful to you?" I'm no prude, but…since always? The damn ceiling doesn't even hold up when The Beek tries to hang himself!
Even a good throwaway moment in the film — Somerhalder wearing a t-shirt that reads "Masturbation Is Not A Crime" after his infamous fantasy kiss/jerking-off scene — is completely ruined by The Beek, who contraindicates the shirt's message by immediately beating off to "Afternoon Delight." Dawson ruins everything!
The film is only okay to begin with, and the fact that it's so clearly in love with itself magnifies its shortcomings. It's watchable enough, visually interesting up to a point, and the fact that Somerhalder spends much of the film in boxer briefs and nothing else– there's shirtless yoga, a getting-dressed montage, and a much-discussed dancing-on-a-bed scene with a friend/former fuck-buddy — doesn't hurt. And while Van Der Beek alternates between cartoonish glowering and silly O-faces (that one'll keep Sars up at night, heh ["I hate you" -- ed.]), and Sossamon displays the energy and range of a deoxygenated goldfish, Somerhalder injects an easy playfulness into his character that's mostly fun to watch. But indulgent conceits such as ritualistic playbacks of scenes in reverse, and an absolutely interminable split-screen sequence of Sossamon and Van Der Beek starting their day and eventually running into each other in front of a class (I know I always wanted to see the Beek taking a dump on screen) do little to mask the fact that almost nothing happens.
Many might say that that's the point (especially fans of the Bret Easton Ellis book of the same name on which the story is based) — the combination of such palpable ennui and hedonism in these kids makes a profound statement. In response, I say this to you, screenwriter and director Roger Avary: twenty-year-olds binge drinking, doing drugs, and having casual sex that sometimes blurs the lines of sexual orientation? That's not a statement. That's college. I mean, in many spots, the film is fun, but if you want an example of kids doing this stuff that has an actual impact, maybe watch, say, Kids? As the opening VO of the film tells us, "It's a story that might bore you, but you don't have to listen." Words to be heeded indeed.
The Backstory: I have discussed this with many people, especially many gay men, so I know I am not alone in thinking that Ian Somerhalder is rather aesthetically pleasing to regard. As for how I discovered this fact, I'd like to blame Lost or even Life As A House, but the fact is that The Beek is indirectly responsible, as I first saw Somerhalder in the short-lived Young Americans, a spin-off of Dawson's Creek. (Not that I need to explain that to most readers here. Also, I suddenly want a Coke.) Seeing him frolic around the shores of Lake Homoerotica to The Steel Drums Of Non-Gay Love got me hooked. It's a story that's not pretty, but is definitely familiar.
The Embarrassment Level: Would only be a 5 on the merits I've described so far. However,it's a 10. Because I listened to the commentary, parts of which are now infamous, and:
Ian Somerhalder's A Douchebag: Ian Somerhalder's a douchebag. A lot's been made of certain parts of the commentary he did for the film, in which he talks about the kiss being so "uncomfortable" and "inherently wrong" (insert your own joke about The Beek here). He defends himself for those particular remarks, saying he was only talking about the physical abrasiveness of two guys with some amount of stubble making out. I decided to listen to the commentary to judge for myself, and it's pretty clear that that's true — in that narrow passage. He also claims to have many gay friends (yes, that tired refrain, but he's been modeling since he was 10 — I'd find it hard to believe otherwise) and says they were horrified he was branded a homophobe over those remarks, which is possibly true.
But I have to tell you, it's his statements in other parts of the commentary that are the problem for me. His description of the scene where he hits on Thomas Ian Nicholas's character is grossly condescending, and whether he meant that hitting on a guy was so awful for him or that the problem was hitting on Nicholas himself, he still sounds disgusting. Same goes for his remarks during the dancing scene (he says he would never have done the shower scene referenced during the dancing, never) and the part where he complained that the director wouldn't let him have a stand-in for a scene where his friend tries to give him a foot job under the table.
I mean, I don't think the guy would beat up gays or anything close to that, but he got paid to play a gay character (why he's billed as bisexual is beyond me), and to get all publicly hetero-panicked about every facet of that after the fact (there's a telling comment about him having a "sad gay moment" at the end of the film) is not only offensive but really, really boring. Rounding out his general douchebaggery are numerous moments in which he complains about how disgusting the filming conditions were and a mention of Burning Man as if it were some well-kept secret, not to mention the part where he basically says he wants to be part of a Swoosie Kurtz/Faye Dunaway sandwich. I will give credit where credit's due — the part where he stops discussing the gay-kiss scene to marvel out loud at the enormous zit on The Beek's forehead made me laugh. But seriously, dude: next time drag the razor both ways, and tell the guy you're making out with to do the same. It's not rocket science.
John Ramos is a writer and film producer living in Los Angeles. You can reach him at couchbaron at gmail dot com.
Tags: Couch Baron homophobes of film and television Ian Somerhalder movies Shannyn Sossamon The Beek The Crushed Film Festival