"The Rules of Attraction" is a raw and unflinching look at the intertwined lives of college students navigating the terrain of lust, excess, and self-destruction. It provides a stark departure from the typical romantic college tales, instead delving into a more sardonic, darkly comedic exploration of young adult life.
Set at the fictitious Camden College, the film is centered around three primary characters: Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek), a drug dealer who's smitten with Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), a virgin saving herself for her traveling boyfriend, and Paul (Ian Somerhalder), who harbors an infatuation for Sean. These entangled relationships serve as the backdrop for a narrative that refuses to sugarcoat the more unsavory aspects of collegiate life.
James Van Der Beek, in a notable departure from his "Dawson's Creek" persona, offers a layered performance as the self-destructive Sean, effectively shedding his previous good-boy image. Shannyn Sossamon delivers a nuanced portrayal of a young woman teetering on the edge of disillusionment, while Ian Somerhalder adds depth to the tale as the openly bisexual Paul.
Director Roger Avary employs a non-linear narrative, frequently using inventive techniques such as reverse chronological order and split screens, capturing the fragmented nature of the characters' experiences. The film's soundtrack further complements its tone, weaving together a medley of tracks that evoke the early 2000s college scene.
While "The Rules of Attraction" is undeniably stylish and compelling in its portrayal of a lost generation, it can also be polarizing. Its bleakness and lack of redemptive characters may not resonate with everyone. The film doesn't attempt to moralize or provide clear-cut answers, opting instead for a more ambiguous reflection on youth and emptiness.