Rules of Attraction has the feeling of a bright kid in their late teens, sitting in their room, doodling on their guitar, writing wistful songs wondering why the world is so fucked up and their friends are so phony and girls won't date them. Sometimes it's beautiful and moving and works wonders with its raw, honest young emotions. Sometimes it wanks around and fucks with the grammar and looks a bit silly. It's always ambitious and lyrical, the lyrics just aren't always that good.
The movie's strengths and weaknesses are summed up near the end of the second act, when one single shot, going on for an ingeniously excruciating length, is soundtracked with what, if I were to explain it, you'd laugh at, but under the circumstances, works wonders, and the whole shot is gruelling and harrowing and moving like no other single shot I can remember. (Rope doesn't count and I haven't seen Russian Ark yet).
And then a shot follows that is not only horribly cliched, it's also as trite and literal as the previous shot was raw and visceral; and then a shot follows THAT that's just so disgusting in its expectedness, it's probably the worst POSSIBLE shot in the entire library of cinematic grammar that you could use at this point. And then, just to rub salt in the wound (and at this point, if the rules of cinema that Avery so college-level-iconoclastically picks-and-chooses his adherence to would allow it, I'm sure we'd SEE a closeup of salt being rubbed into a wound), a little montage plays that would be at home in a direct-to-video movie with a fraction of the quality Rules of Attraction manages, at times, to have. That's the trouble with working magic: when you go back to doing ordinary stuff, it looks fucking awful.
See, on the whole, this Roger Avery character pisses me off. Getting famous by working with Quentin Tarantino, then working bitchy little references to your work with him into the first ten minutes of your movie. Using your Oscar speech as the opportunity to announce to the world your need to urinate. Running the credits of your movie backwards. Yes, Roger, you're all daring and you don't let the Man tell you what to do and the opening scene of your movie is a humorous depiction of a girl being vomited on while she's being date-raped. How very clever you are, Roger. Fuck off.
But despite this, he's still a rather talented irritating little troll. Like the kid sitting in his room smoking pot and thinking every lyric he writes is going to change the world, a lot of Avery's decisions are just plain awful. Labored, visible, amateur mistakes. But one time out of maybe five, he manages to do something that's genuinely great and goes under the radar to underpin Rules of Attraction with a good solid style.
What's probably most impressive here is the degree of weight his characters have. Seeing Dawson fucking and cursing and snogging boys has an impact that lasts approximately a minute; but the three protagonists in Rules of Attraction are invested with such weight and resonance that's the polar opposite of college movies' standard young-carefree-best-days-of-our-lives thesis.
When any of the principle players, onscreen or off, try to literalise it, to spell out what's going on, be it via the spoken word (or lack thereof - what a silly ending line) or the grammar of film (which, as you may've gathered, calls attention to itself often in this movie), they fall flat and make you wish you were watching American Pie, where the rules of cinema are adhered to but it makes you laugh instead of groaning. But when Avery or Van der Beek or tomanandy or editor Sharon Rutter or anyone else involved just cut loose and allow things to happen, freely and honestly, the results are often amazing, lively and, in their fucked-up little way, beautiful.