A self-declared expert at navigating the maze of modern relationships, Matthew Altman (Matthew Settle) is someone who sorely needs to take his own advice. With his newspaper column and a radio call-in show, Matthew dispenses tough-love pearls of wisdom that he will not heed, particularly when it comes to his ex-girlfriend Liz (Gretchen Mol), whom he has been stalking. In his feature debut, writer-director Russell DeGrazier ponders the question: How can someone be so self-aware yet so utterly blind to the ramifications of his actions?

Intelligent, articulate and increasingly unhinged, Matthew is utterly fascinating, in part because he initially comes off as such an unrepentant prick. To his credit, DeGrazier isn’t afraid to show the nasty characteristics of his characters. Take Garrett (Tom Everett Scott), Matthew’s level-headed editor at the Socket, whose concern for Liz is based more on his own interests than those of his friend, or the way Matthew begins dating Liz’s nervy friend, Corey (Samantha Mathis), an actress with a wavering sense of self-worth, in a fit of mean-spirited payback.

With a confident, assertive visual style, DeGrazier reimagines Los Angeles as a haven for artistic strivers. It may be a romanticized vision of the hardscrabble bohemian life — where hipster cred and DIY attitude count for more than monetary success — but it’s always good to see this sprawling, complex metropolis portrayed sans the glitter non-Angelenos assume is ever present.

But it’s the way theater director DeGrazier carefully lets his characters transform themselves that shows his solid storytelling abilities. In this quartet, each performer (and all four actors are excellent) subtly changes their tune to reveal unexpected attributes — such as the way both defender Garrett and victim Liz exploit her fear of Matthew, or the resilience Corey displays under duress.

The nature of need is explored with smart toughness in Attraction. Rampant self-interest (an attribute which is practically synonymous with Los Angeles) isn’t the only driving force for these restless, ambitious Tinsel Town residents, whose holy grail remains just as elusive as fame: true and lasting love.

Opens Friday exclusively at the AMC Abbey (14 Mile Rd. at I-75, Madison Heights). Call 248-588-0881.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].

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