Writer/director LaBute adapts his four-character play about a college nerd (Paul Rudd) hooking up with an an arrogant art student (Rachel Weisz) who immediately sets to improving his appearance, affecting his relationship with his former roommate (Fred Weller) and the roommate's fiancee (Gretchen Mol).
The results of this adaptation reveal why most plays fall flat when brought to the screen: The chatty, stagebound dialogue betrays the story's origins at every moment. LaBute reportedly wanted to maintain the theatricality of his production. So what's the point of making a movie? Simply to commit the story to celluloid and maybe make more money? Whatever LaBute's intentions, the fact remains that The Shape of Things feels like filmed theatre, however prettily filmed.
The cast is perfect - no surprise, since they originated these roles onstage - but because of the manipulative nature of cinema, we miss the joy of watching their live chemistry. The story itself, while a far cry from the viciousness of LaBute's first two films In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors, still carries a sting, and the last act does elicit gasps when you realize just what Weisz's character is up to, but LaBute plays it too safe while carefully avoiding the obvious Cinderella story cliches.
Rudd's character is far too goofy to be likeable, so he never earns our sympathy; Weller's and Mol's supporting characters are rather one-dimensional; Weisz is such a rat that you know she's up to no good from the start. However, when her cruel intentions are finally revealed, we neither feel that Rudd was undeserving, nor do we chuckle at his comeuppance. His personality is supposed to change as Weisz makes him more physically attractive, but the stretch isn't that great - the worst he does is get cagey about an indiscretion and tell a couple of lies that anybody - beautiful or homely - might tell.
The whole movie is like that: Interesting, but not bold enough to provoke the sort of debate about love, art, and morality that LaBute clearly hoped to provoke. The Shape of Things is pretty flat.