Re: "A Confederacy of Dunces"

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Posted by Lils from ? ( on Friday, November 08, 2002 at 3:24PM :

In Reply to: "A Confederacy of Dunces" posted by Lils from ? ( on Friday, November 08, 2002 at 3:19PM :

that previous one was from the Nashville Scene, November 7 2002 issue

I thought these reviews say some interesting things about the culture here in the US... & Jim Ridley is awesome.

Nashville Scene
October 24 2002

Too cool for school
Jim Ridley

The rejected original poster for The Rules of Attraction says it all: a group of stuffed animals arranged in blatantly kinky poses. The juxtaposing of innocence, youth and sexuality inflames the culture cops at every juncture, and yet a whole genre of jaded, overprivileged, cruel-beyond-their-years collegiate fiction thrives to titillate teens and adults. Call it Prep School Confidential, of which Roger Avary's sardonic, stylistically dazzling adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel is among the most exciting examples.

Ellis' pet subject is the deranging influence of privilege, whether wielded by undergrad cads, serial-killer stockbrokers or supermodel terrorists. Other people exist as commodities--unwanted but necessary conduits to getting high, getting off or getting ahead. The Rules of Attraction, Ellis' second novel, fragments the druggy, debauched recollections of a jerk-circle of acquaintances at a thinly veiled version of his alma mater, Bennington. Each chapter represents a different character, and there's a lip-smacking aspect to their catalog of transgressions, a refined version of the mingled contempt and envy felt by every school-cafeteria outsider eyeing the cool kids' table.

That transgressive gusto comes through in Avary's adaptation, which turns the novel's fragmentation into stylistic fireworks. Ellis published his novel in 1987, during the rise of the VCR generation. Avary's direction, like the Pulp Fiction script he co-authored, mimics the functions of fast-forward and rewind--an ingenious approach to the teen antiheroes' elastic sense of time and memory. From the Camden College dorm room where Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon) is being raped, a keg rolls backward up the hall toward two frat kids, whose movements reverse down a stairwell to the bowels of a party. Time runs forward again as the predatory narrator, Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek), scopes out his next conquest.

Avary follows the main characters for a semester as they awkwardly pursue one another to the exclusion of all else around them--studies, missed opportunities, people on their social periphery. The sullen, bisexual Paul (Ian Somerhalder) nurses a crush on Sean, who pines for Lauren (Paul's ex). Time not spent at parties is used on drug deals, bad sex, overdoses or failed suicide attempts. Where are the poor saps who sit around studying, you ask? Conspicuous by their absence--they don't exist in these characters' world, and certainly not in their memories. The movie's focus is narrow by design.

So why is the movie about these assholes, instead of the quiet kids who actually got something out of college? The obvious answer--who'd pay to see that?--is not necessarily the right one. Although he wisely plays the characters' solipsism as pitch-black comedy, Avary sees real sadness in their lost potential--in the youth they squander, in the feelings they're too hip to own up to. This loss has a measure: a nameless but pivotal figure who's revealed in flashback (through cleverly used optical zooms) to have been invisible in plain sight. Her exit from the movie, scored to Harry Nilsson's majestically self-pitying "Without You," is the most wounding of a series of irreversible acts--even more so since she remains a blank to the self-obsessed leads.

Ultimately, it's this obliviousness that makes the characters pitiable. They pose with cigarettes and exhale little aphorisms like, "Nobody knows anybody else," but they're still kids playing dress-up in adult affectlessness. Which will become real enough only too soon, given the movie's few glimpses of the grown-up world: Eric Stoltz's opportunist sleaze of a professor, Swoosie Kurtz and Faye Dunaway as parents too sloshed and self-absorbed to notice how sloshed and self-absorbed their children are. Avary's stylish audacity sometimes tips over into anything-for-an-effect tastelessness, and he's too fond of showboating supporting turns (like Clifton Collins Jr.'s manic pusher). But his portrait of accelerated disenchantment is still affecting. Perhaps beneath its flash and bile, The Rules of Attraction has something as uncool as a heart.

-- Lils
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