Welcome to Camden College, the slutty cousin of all party schools. Camden boasts rigorous curricula in ethanol, psychedelic fungi, and chemically induced debauchery. Female admission is determined by the stringent criteria of large bust size and predilection for promiscuity. Males need only to bring their libidos and thirst for Jack Daniel’s straight from the bottle. Academic work is scant, they’ll let you stay an undergraduate until you’re 26, and your dormmates will be the cast of “Dawson’s Creek.”
Already working on your application? Keep reading.
This fictional Ivy League school in The Rules of Attraction is the setting for a bisexual love triangle between drug dealer Sean (James Van Der Beek), virgin Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon) and gay person Paul (Ian Somerhalder). Paul likes Sean, who likes Lauren, who is holding out for her boyfriend Victor (Kip Pardue), who is busy sojourning in Europe. None of this matters, however, since we don’t like any of them.
We also don’t like writer-director Roger Avery. Avery, who co-wrote Pulp Fiction, creates characters so thin and a film so thick that it’s impossible to care. A party is told from the perspective of one main character, then played backwards in real-time and shown again from another. This may have worked if the subject material was more interesting, but the characters’ lives are painful enough to watch the first time; watching them twice is unbearable. There is even a five-minute sequence of Sean standing in the snow and mourning love lost when a single snowflake falls from the sky and lands on his cheek, then melts into a tear and runs down his face.
Most of the film is shot in a documentary-style voyeur cam, a technique that has become popular in independent films of late. While this bestows a unique perspective, Avery overkills it with unnecessarily graphic and pointless scenes. The characters masturbate frequently, never find gratification, and the sex they do have is disturbingly violent. And do we really need to see Van Der Beek on the shitter appraising dirty toilet paper?
In a time when teen comedies glorify frivolous sex, Rules does stand out. The characters try to do what they think is right, but are pulled down by the film’s overly cynical view. Lauren keeps a book of venereal diseases by her bed to deter herself from having sex, but even she can’t hold out in the end. This becomes a simile for the entire film: watching it is like looking through a giant book of venereal diseases. The experience is unpleasant, though informative and so uncomfortable we are forced to detach ourselves.