The Stupid History: A short movie note

The Stupid History: A short movie note March 22, 2021

You guys, sometimes I get tired of being a self-parody. But then I watch something like The Rules of Attraction (2002, but in a very 1999 kind of way), and I love it, and I have to accept my station in life.

Rules is a comedy (????) of undergraduate sexual folly, based on a novel by Bret Easton Ellis & set at a college which I assume is based loosely on Bennington. It opens with a scene mixing weird brilliance and grossness in equal measure. At the “End of the World Party,” three lissome white people make disastrous sexual/romantic choices, which lead only to their degradation… and then time rewinds and they march backward down the stairs from the bedrooms, beer leaps back into the keg, etc etc, to a savage-irony soundtrack of “Carol of the Bells.” This was wild and odd, and I liked the heavyhanded willingness to lean into the themes of regret and choice, but the degradation was so thorough that I was worried the film would be meanspirited. I don’t like it when comedy dislikes its targets!

I got on board with this film in the scene where the gay students take one of their number to the ER after a suicide attempt, and get humiliated by the doctor. (This is what the whole movie is like, caveat spectator.) It was OTT and our pov character was just awful, and I found myself laughing like a drain, and I didn’t understand why, because again it’s the kind of scene which could be shot with so much contempt and instead there was a kind of acceptance: This is what your undergraduate years will be like, this is youth.

And the whole movie was like that. Maybe my favorite thing about Rules is that the students, who by the way never do any schoolwork, hence the title of this post, spend a lot of time trying to figure out what their painful experiences of love mean. In my nemesis, the wholesome movie, they would consider that perhaps their experiences mean that it is not a good idea to spend all your time with people who treat you badly. But blessedly, this thought never crosses their raccoony little minds! Instead they brood about how these events reveal the true nature of life, and their own true character: “I always knew it would be like this.” “Nobody knows anyone.” “It’s who I am, an emotional vampire.” “Luck has nothing to do with anything.” I love this for you, you terrible, sad youths.

It just felt very true to life, where the problem with trying to understand your own folly is that folly is the only thing you have to understand it with. And you can’t find the line between folly and wickedness, in part because admitting either that you have acted wickedly or that you have been treated wickedly would mean that you are vulnerable.

Shannyn Sossamon is excellent as the girl, Ian Somerhalder is just shockingly good as the gay one, the music is painfully good, the bodies come together in flamboyantly wrong tableaux. As always I really need you guys to remember that when I praise a movie that isn’t the same as recommending it.

Rumpled bedsheets via Piqsels under a Creative Commons license.

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