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LaBute's career takes a new 'Shape'

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The hard thing about being an enfant terrible is staying an enfant terrible. Neil LaBute, who returns this week with "The Shape of Things," is a case in point.

Mr. LaBute made a noisy splash with his first movie, "In the Company of Men," about two obnoxious yuppies who seduce and abandon a woman they scarcely know as revenge against all the other women who've dissed them over the years.

The picture was heavy-handed and mean-spirited, but many moviegoers responded to its sheer audacity. Something similar happened when LaBute released "Your Friends & Neighbors."

Some critics concluded that LaBute was a boy wonder who'd sink below the box-office horizon once his brand of shock value wore thin.

Not content to follow such a predictable route, LaBute went mainstream with a vengeance last summer. "Possession" featured high-profile stars (Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam) and a deeply romantic story borrowed from an A.S. Byatt novel.

I was no fan of LaBute's more abrasive pictures, but his Hollywood haymaker was even worse. So I was relieved when he told me in an interview that his next picture - "The Shape of Things" - would return to the idiosyncratic style of his early work.

He was telling the truth and, best of all, the new film is easily the best he's made so far.

Rachel Weisz plays Evelyn, an art student at a small college that follows the contemporary fashion of valuing self-centered assertiveness over empathy and cooperation.

Paul Rudd plays Adam, an insecure young man who becomes her boyfriend after a conversation in a local museum takes surprising turns.

Adam becomes more assured under Evelyn's influence, growing in self-esteem but losing some of the satisfaction he formerly found in his friendship with Jenny and Philip, also students at the college.

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