Unsung and Uncredited
Roger Avary is one of the most unsung filmmakers of the 1990's and 2000's because there have been films he's wrote and directed that are underrated and contributions to other films that he has not received any credit for; notably Quentin Tarantino's work. Avary met Tarantino at the famous Video Archives, where they both worked and became good friends. The two of course had an insatiable appetite for film and they began collaborating on projects together in 1987.
He worked as a cinematographer on Tarantino's unfinished first film, My Best Friend's Birthday. He had at one point written a script called "The Open Road," which Tarantino rewrote. Avary took on the producer's role, and he and Tarantino tried unsuccessfully for several years to get funding so that Tarantino could direct the script himself. Eventually, the script was sold to French producer Samuel Hadida and became the movie True Romance. Since Tarantino was busy prepping Reservoir Dogs, Avary was hired with Tarantino's consent by Tony Scott and Hadida to work as a script doctor on the material, a job which included bringing the length down, reforming the narrative to a linear fashion, and writing a more commercial ending in which the Clarence character is not killed.
When the Paul Brothers, a pair of wealthy bodybuilders who wanted to get into the movies, offered Tarantino funding for his script Natural Born Killers (read my article on the film) on the condition he include a scene featuring them, he could not write it out of disgust, and asked Avary to write it as a favor. The scene, known as the "Hun Brothers" scene, was described by Oliver Stone as the best scene in the script. It was, however, cut from the final film because, as Stone is quoted as saying on the Natural Born Killers special edition laserdisc, "I fucked it up." Avary co-wrote the background radio dialogue in Reservoir Dogs, and designed the "Dog Eat Dog" logo which appeared in the end credits.
Most notably, Avary contributed material which, combined with Tarantino's, formed the basis of Pulp Fiction for which he and Tarantino won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay; and an acceptance speech that was remembered for Avary saying he had to go "pee" (the five Best Picture nominees of 1994 had references to characters going number1). Avary also wrote and directed the neo-noir cult thriller Killing Zoe which Tarantino executive produced. The screenplay was based in part on his experiences travelling through Europe (which he also refers to in Victor's European trip in The Rules of Attraction).
Sadly, Avary was arrested in 2008 on manslaughter and DUI charges, which he served eight months in jail for. He's had various projects in development over the past 5 years
The Rules of Attraction
Despite winning an Oscar, Avary became frustrated with collaborating with Tarantino, saying of him, "I've realized that I can't hang out with him. I talk with him, and he just sucks stuff from me." So he set about adapting Brett Easton Ellis's dark satirical novel The Rules of Attraction. The novel focuses on a handful of rowdy and often sexually promiscuous, spoiled bohemian college students at a liberal arts college in 1980s (updated to present day for the film) New Hampshire, primarily focusing on three of them who find themselves in a love triangle. The novel is written in first person narrative, and the story is told from the points of view of various characters. It's set in Ellis's universe, one of the main characters is Sean Bateman, the younger brother of Patrick Bateman from Ellis's American Psycho. The other two main characters are a virgin named Lauren and her gay ex-boyfriend Paul.
Ellis himself has remarked that of all the film adaptations of his books, The Rules of Attraction came closest to capturing his sensibility and recreating the world he created in his novels.
My Thoughts on the Film
Having read both the novel and the film, I agree with Ellis that this is the most faithful adaptation of his work. This film is an acquired taste as it is extremely dark, stylized, and downbeat. Critics mostly dismissed the film commenting that the film was too dark and the characters were unsympathetic, also Avary's stylized approach was nauseating. While I agree that at times this film is really hard to watch, IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE THAT WAY.
The rewinding film stock and frequent time-lapses have a way of displacing the events of the film to memory only to then regurgitate them back to the present. When an otherwise unimportant character commits suicide, Avary fascinatingly implicates the audience in her demise via a montage of clips from earlier in the film that hinted at the girl's alienation. In the process, he encourages active spectatorship from his audience and a more human involvement from his characters. It's an incredible sequence, one that emphasizes the themes of alienation, drug abuse, and the cruelty of college and social statuses.
These characters are seemingly unsympathetic and shallow, but deep down the three main characters are masking deep internal pains through drug use and partying. They rarely attend class, and when they do there's no students anyway. Each character has entangling obsessions with each other that eventually end in ambiguity.
Another fantastic scene, the one most remembered by fans, is the Divided Scene. Avary shows us a split screen montage of Sean and Lauren waking up to go to a thankless Saturday class, we follow the two as they eventually meet each other in the hallway face to face. Avary then pans both screens into one as we see them as two. It's incredibly well done and rivals even the best of Brian De Palma's best split screen montages.
Another thing that's great about the film is how Avary plays with time and perspective as he has done before in other works with Tarantino. Here he takes it to a new extreme, literally showing the rewinding and fast forwarding of time. The three main characters are seemingly trapped in and endless time continuum with no end in sight. The structure begins and ends in media res; there is no clear beginning and end, or reliable perspective.
The performances are all dynamite, featuring the best work from some of the more popular young actors of the late 90's/earlier 00's. James van der Beek is incredible as Sean Bateman; brooding, narcissistic, and funny. There's loads of classic lines and van der Beek delivers most of them. Shannyn Sossamon as Lauren, is probably the most sympathetic character and she displays a wide range of emotions and stunningly original beauty. Ian Somerhalder gives a brilliant performance as Paul, most of the satirical elements involve him. Loads of minor roles and cameo performances are in the film, the most memorable is Clifton Collins Jr. as a psychotic townie drug dealer of Sean Bateman.
This film might not be everyone's cup of tea but none the less has found a huge cult following. You might need to take a shower afterwards, but the darkly (I mean DARK) funny journey is worth it because Avary does a brilliant job of conveying Ellis's core themes while still keeping an inventive story structure. Fantastic soundtrack as well.