Rating: **** 1/2 [4.5 out of 5 stars]
EXCERPT: "You will not like Your Friends and Neighbors; it's intense, unflinching and uncomfortable. You won't look away from it, though, and you won't forget the people it showed you for a long time."
Rating: *** [3 out of 4 stars]
ONCE YOU'VE seen "Your Friends and Neighbors," the title gives you a pretty good idea of what writer-director Neil LaBute thinks of his fellow men and women. Not much, given that every character, save one, in this movie is an unadulterated creep, and that several of them are downright repulsive. Not only that, but as the title implies, they're just like you and me.
On the one hand it makes you pity the filmmaker for having to live with his unhappy view of humanity. On the other, it recasts his previous film, "In the Company of Men," as something other than the misogynist rant it appeared to be. That movie told of two calculatingly sadistic men who plot to each seduce and romance a young deaf woman and then dump her as cruelly as possible, just for fun.
The offensiveness of the movie lay partly in LaBute's implication that the men are not particularly extraordinary guys, as if men routinely harbor such malevolence for women. Feminists were outraged.
Judging by "Your Friends and Neighbors," and the stingingly unpleasant portrayal of the male characters in it, it becomes clear that "In the Company of Men' was no apology or endorsement of such repugnant male behavior, but rather a dispassionate observation, something more like the work of a feminist cheerleader. You see, LaBute doesn't think much of men. But then he doesn't think much of women, either. Let's just say that he's an equal opportunity disparager.
The characters' names (given in the credits) are never used on screen, to underscore, I can only speculate, their everyman identity. Mary (Amy Brenneman) is the unresponsive and sexually dissatisfied wife of Barry (Aaron Eckhart of "In the Company of Men" ), who enjoys sex with himself more than with any other partner.
Jerry (Ben Stiller) is Barry's purported best friend, although he doesn't seem to like him much. Barry does like Mary and proposes a secret liaison. He's looking for someone to admire him in bed because his wife, Terri (Catherine Keener), explicitly does not and reminds him often of this fact. She is one of the meanest women on screen since Jessica Lange injected her daughter-in-law Gwyneth Paltrow with a horse hypodermic in "Hush."
In spite of Terri's unrepentant nastiness, she is adored by Cheri (Nastassja Kinski), an artist's assistant Terri picks up at a gallery. Topping off this collection of misfits (people LaBute treats as jus' folks) is Cary (Jason Patric, doing an amusing Brando impersonation), a selfish, amoral, possibly psychotic jerk who is friends with Jerry and Barry. (Again, they don't seem to like one another.)
The acting and writing is a cut above the ordinary and while there are many funny moments, the movie is mostly a horror story about people who seem genetically incapable of happiness and are trying to live their lives as if happiness were possible. The tension between the fantasy of satisfaction and the reality of desolation poses an enthralling dramatic situation. I think LaBute is on to something and I take back all the negative thoughts that his unbearably painful-to-watch earlier film engendered in me.
Rating: *** [3 out of 4 stars]
From its title, you might think "Your Friends & Neighbors" is a friendly, neighborly kind of movie. But you'll know better if you saw Neil LaBute's previous picture, "In the Company of Men," one of last year's most talked-about independent films.
The clue to his new drama is in the ampersand between "friends" and "neighbors," as if this were an advertising slogan or a listing in the classified ads. Old-fashioned human relations don't interest LaBute much. What he wants to probe are the self-centered interconnections that sprout between people in a commercialized, commodified, endlessly competitive society. LaBute is an equal-opportunity cynic, so he aims his scathingly satirical vision at Generation X in general, without narrowing his attacks to a particular place or profession.
The city where his story takes place is never identified, and even the names of his characters are left unspoken. This contributes to what LaBute calls a "distancing effect," meant to give the movie a sense of objective truthfulness. Audiences can judge the success of this strategy by deciding whether the story is a convincing expose or a sensationalistic diatribe.
The main characters are a half dozen young urbanites who hook one another into a complicated web of friendship, romance, rivalry, deception, and betrayal. On the surface they're everyday friends and neighbors. Just below the surface, so close you can sense it by peering into their eyes, they're preoccupied with their own lowdown lusts, and with the tactics they can deploy - from locker-room gossiping to lying, cheating, and stealing - to satisfy their latest impulses. Needless to say, barriers like marriage, camaraderie, and commitment count for just about nothing in this environment.
Except that it has twice as many characters, "Your Friends & Neighbors" concocts the same sort of atmosphere LaBute gave to "In the Company of Men," about two businessmen who heap emotional abuse on a deaf secretary as revenge against the women they feel have wronged them over the years. Both movies are flawed by LaBute's sledgehammer approach. The mood is often more coarse, crude, and nasty than needed to make his cautionary points and also by that "distancing effect," which diminishes whatever feelings of empathy or sympathy the story might otherwise inspire in its audience.
"Your Friends & Neighbors" has the indie version of a dream cast - Ben Stiller, Catherine Keener, Aaron Eckhart, Amy Brenneman, Jason Patric, and Nastassja Kinski - and Nancy Schreiber's camera work gives the picture more visual life than "In the Company of Men" contained. The music score consists largely of Metallica songs performed by Apocalyptica, suiting the picture's overall tone to perfection.
Rating: *** [3 out of 5 stars]
Neil LaBute is a ferociously talented filmmaker, but judging from his work, you'd hate to sit next to the guy on a plane. Not since "Carnal Knowledge" have we seen such a resolutely bleak picture of human nature and men's hearts as in his first film, "In the Company of Men," and now in "Your Friends and Neighbors."
"Your Friends and Neighbors" is at times an awfully funny film, and it features scathingly intelligent dialogue delivered by a talented cast. Six urbanites--three male friends, two of their female significant others and a young woman who gets involved with several of them--use ostensible ties of love and friendship to rip each other apart. Weasely academic Jerry (Ben Stiller) propositions Mary (Amy Brenneman), the ostensibly happily married wife of his old friend Barry (Aaron Eckhart). Jerry's live-in girlfriend Terri (Catherine Keener) is carrying on a fling on the side with comely art-gallery employee Cheri (Nastassja Kinski), while nasty misogynist Cary (Jason Patric) uses and abuses his was through a string of women (sending a bogus letter informing an old girlfriend that she's been exposed to AIDS is one of his milder shenanigans).
Everyone is good here--from Stiller's hilarious self-justifications to Keener's abrasive portrayal of a woman who just wishes her lovers would shut up, in and out of the sack. And LaBute has a savagely accurate ear for dialogue. But this is a nasty bunch of people. This is the point, of course, and the results are often riveting, particularly in an extended steamroom monologue by Patric which is a quick trip to the heart of darkness. But audiences who don't like it quite this rough are likely to feel a bit used and abused themselves by the time "Your Friends and Neighbors" reaches its supremely cynical climax.
When I was in high school, there was this one guy (let's call him The Ape) who had what could politely be called a limited view of humanity. He was about 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, and had biceps that were fast on their way to outgrowing your average Butterball turkey. Just the look in his eyes told you to steer clear of him, but that didn't mean that he couldn't do you a great deal of harm the minute he got the urge.
You see, The Ape had a bad habit of randomly selecting a victim while everybody was changing classes, nonchalantly walking over, and belting them repeatedly in the side of the head. He got hauled to detention for it constantly, but as soon as he was back in the rotation he'd hang out in the gym -- or a different hallway -- and do it all over again. Being The Funny Guy, I was usually able to make him laugh if he decided to grunt in my direction, so one day I very cautiously asked The Ape why he kept doing this? His response: "I hate people."
I only bring this up because I couldn't help thinking of The Ape while watching Neil LaBute's latest venomous upchuck, a supposed sexual black comedy called "Your Friends and Neighbors."
Deserving of dismissal
I often find myself envying certain magazine movie reviewers who have the opportunity to dismiss particularly simpleminded films in a brief paragraph and then move on to something with some inherent value.
Unfortunately, I can't do that. "Your Friends and Neighbors" would be a prime candidate for this treatment, mainly because the entire thing, from beginning to end, can be boiled down into a three word sentence: "I hate people." The Ape (far-reaching seeker of the truth that he was) may very well have the movie's poster hanging above his bed as I write this. That is, if they let him decorate his cell.
LaBute made something of a name for himself last year with his equally ugly first film, "In the Company of Men." The plot of that masterwork dealt with a couple of business-world jerks who decide to make sport out of seducing, then cruelly abandoning, a lonely, tender-hearted deaf woman who works in their office.
LaBute's horizons have greatly expanded since then, however. "Your Friends and Neighbors" features a virtual tag-team of upper middle-class sexual terrorists, nearly all of whom treat intimacy as a golden opportunity to wallow in mean-spirited selfishness, then brag about it to their buddies later.
LaBute's tremendous growth as a writer is readily evident, in that he now features females who are just as repugnant as the men who are banging them. It's like watching the Woody Allen movie "Manhattan," except that all the main characters would rather dispense with talking about art and politics, and get right down to raping someone. Then they could go to Elaine's and chuckle about it over some cognac.
"Your Friends and Neighbors" is so obvious and proudly malicious, I can't decide if LaBute is in dire need of some therapy or if he's just plain old shallow. Actually, it's probably a combination of the two, emphasis on the therapy angle.
Ben Stiller, Jason Patric (who co-produced), and Aaron Eckhart are three friends who like to get together and grouse about how much they hate women, or love hating them, or hate loving them.
Love is really the furthest thing from anybody's mind, though. The guys' wives and/or partners in sex are played by Catherine Keener, Amy Brenneman, and Nastassja Kinski. Keener hates it if Stiller talks too much while he's having (thoroughly joyless) sex with her. Brenneman tries to have an affair with Stiller, while remaining on very friendly with terms with Keener. Kinski meets Keener at an art gallery and sleeps with her. Eckhart, who's married to Brenneman and is very close to Stiller, admits that he gets the most satisfaction out of masturbation (we get to see him service himself under the sheets after his unsatisfied wife falls to sleep next to him). And then there's Patric's happy-go-lucky character.
One of the key moments in the movie comes when Patric, as an unbelievably angry, repulsive womanizer, delivers a lengthy soliloquy about the greatest sex he ever had. No, it wasn't with some hot number he picked up in a bar somewhere, or some secretary at the office. His golden moment came in high school when he and several friends took revenge on a kid they didn't like by holding him down in the shower and raping him.
Patric almost gets misty-eyed over the glory of it all, the joy of forcing it on someone while expecting absolutely nothing in return. Later, we also get to see Patric screaming at a young woman and throwing her out of his apartment because she dared to menstruate on his expensive bedding. Staggeringly insightful, isn't it?
The actors (especially Brenneman) are all quite good, but I'm embarrassed to think that they might view this as complex screenwriting.
Some of you may remember a traveling group of immaculately groomed singers in the early '70s who toured auditoriums with a show called "Up With People." They'd march out on stage in their matching V-neck sweaters, button-downs, and slacks, grin maniacal grins, and sing alarmingly upbeat songs about the sticky-sweet soda pop river of goodness known as the human experience. It was so single-mindedly joyful it gave you the creeps.
Well, what LaBute is doing here is every bit as willfully unseeing as that, just as worthy of receiving nothing more than a bemused snicker. LaBute perceives the scope of the world we live in in simple black and white, but doesn't bother to deal with the white part. His world, in other words, is black. Nothing short of sex with themselves could satisfy these morons.
There's a very simple way of suggesting that particular activity to someone, but (due to its profane nature) I'll refrain from writing it on this Web site. I really think LaBute should give it a go, though.
It's pretty obvious that you don't need to be dragging the kids to see this one. Lots of profanity and sex. Almost all of the talk is about sex or a lack thereof. Don't come looking for nuance, whatever you do. Calling this "Your Friends and Neighbors" is like making a movie where everyone sits around eating plates of rancid gristle and titling it "Your Favorite Steakhouse." Rated R. 99 minutes.
Hello, Nasty. the Beastie Boys have nothing on Neil LaBute, the writer and director who follows his hotly debated 1997 debut, In the Company of Men, in which two corporate yuppies seduce and abandon a deaf girl, with yet another profanely hilarious jolt of shocking sexual manners. Your Friends and Neighbors triumphantly flips the bird to the triumph of the human spirit as LaBute focuses on three guys -- rat bastards to a man -- with intimacy issues that they chew over in steam rooms, offices and restaurants.
Cary (Jason Patric) practices pillow talk by screwing his mattress and taping his erotic murmurings ("I think you're a great lay; I mean that. I feel special coming inside you"). Barry (Aaron Eckhart) prefers masturbating over catering to his wife, Mary (Amy Brenneman), and her favored sexual positions ("My wife's wonderful; she's just not me. The real fireworks take place when she heads off to the shower"). Then there's Jerry (Ben Stiller), at home in bed with Terri (Catherine Keener): "Baby! Oh . . . can you feel it? Huh? You and I are in complete harmony here. . . . Yeah . . ." And Terri's fed-up response: "Is there any chance you're gonna shut the f--- up? I mean, 'Can you feel it?' No, your thing is nearly in the back of my throat. You think I'm gonna miss that? Let's just do it. I don't need the narration, OK?" It's hardly a surprise that bisexual Terri takes up with Cheri (Nastassja Kinski), an artist's assistant with a gentle manner and no need -- at least at the start of their affair -- to chat during sex.
Be warned: The six main characters in Your Friends and Neighbors love to verbalize. And LaBute provides them with torrents of dazzling dialogue, flying in the face of a digitalized, effects-driven Hollywood where the only true horror is the sound of the human voice.
A betrayal of trust sets these shallow creatures in motion. Jerry makes a play for Mary, his best friend's wife. In a hotel bed, he can't get it up; she feels humiliated. A round of musical beds ensues, wrecking lives and drawing laughs that stick in the throat.
The actors are flat-out wonderful, biting eagerly into juicy roles. Kinski and Brenneman convey heat roiling under cool exteriors. Keener plays Terri like a gathering storm; it's her breakout performance. Eckhart, of In the Company of Men, finds the chilling weakness in Barry. And Stiller, having a peak year with There's Something About Mary and the upcoming Permanent Midnight, exposes the dark fiber of Jerry's comic vanity.
As the vilest viper, Patric -- who co-produced the film -- is a marvel of barely contained fury. Check out the steam-room scene, in which the men brag about the best sex they ever had. Cary's choice is a boy he and three friends gang-raped in high school. Jerry can't top Cary's appalling story, even when he tells Barry, "Your wife. She was the best f--- I ever had. How about that?"
How about this movie? Like the soldiers in Saving Private Ryan who try to guess what Tom Hanks' hard-nosed captain did before the war, audiences may wonder what kind of ogre it took to write Your Friends and Neighbors. Actually, LaBute, 35, is a former Indiana schoolteacher with two children, a therapist wife and a desire not to provide that spoonful of Hollywood sugar to make the medicine go down. A closer look at his film indicates that LaBute is reflecting Restoration comedy in holding up a mirror to societal alienation, as he did in In the Company of Men. When William Wycherley's The Country Wife opened in 1673, Londoners were reveling in the wanton behavior that came in with Charles II. Wycherley made wicked sport of these bawdy schemers, revealing the emptiness at the culture's core.
In Your Friends and Neighbors, LaBute makes the Restoration parallels overt. Jerry, a drama teacher, is seen in full fop regalia directing and starring in a college production of a Wycherley play. All this implies that LaBute is working in a larger context to hunt universal truths. So does the fact that the film takes place in a nameless city and the characters never refer to each other by name. In other hands, the result could be arty bullsh--. With LaBute, you get a filmmaker who cuts to the timeless heart of sexual warfare. His influences extend from the Restoration to David Mamet, but LaBute achieves a bracing originality by observing human folly as a means to understand rather than condemn. Love or hate his films, LaBute is one of the most challenging filmmakers to emerge in years. A critic wrote of The Country Wife, "Though one of the most profligate of human compositions, it is the elaborate performance of a mind ingenious, observant, quick to seize hints and patient of the toil of polishing." Your Friends and Neighbors is the electrifying product of a like mind.
EXCERPT: "Confuses a kind of juvenile titillation with insight and treats the ability to make audiences squirm as a pinnacle of film art."
EXCERPT: "LaBute's characters are just cold, pretty figures striking art film poses while spouting corrosive but predictably theatrical dialogues."
Rating: ** 1/2 [2.5 out of 4 stars]
With "Your Friends & Neighbors", Neil LaBute -- the writer-director of last year's scabrous wonder, "In the Company of Men" -- expands his bilious vision of contemporary gender wars from a trio into a sextet.
In so doing, he sacrifices none of the tightness of technique or tartness of dialogue that marked his debut film. But "Friends" is a different story from "Men" in more ways than one. Generic where "Men" was particular, flaccid where "Men" was razor sharp, sensational where "Men" was clinical, it lacks the earlier film's verve and punch. "Men" startled like a sliver of glass under the skin; "Friends" wearies like constant pounding with a dull object.
The film is a kind of theatrical almost-story about two couples and two singles and the various intrigues, trysts, roundelays and coincidences that entangle them. Monologues, tete-a-tetes and tight little conversations make up the structure; nobody has a proper name; the setting is Anycity, U.S.A. We're meant, presumably, to take the title literally: This is what our friends and neighbors are really like.
Well, maybe. Fact is, like Woody Allen, Whit Stillman or Henry Jaglom, LaBute is writing about a painfully particular type, in his case, narcissistic white-collar urban culturati with neurotic and even sociopathic tendencies. But where Allen and Stillman grapple with morality in a way that draws us in and gives us occasion to think of our own lives, LaBute's metier is so aggressive and cold that he leaves us merely satisfied that we're nothing like the abusive, petty monsters he depicts.
The real action is in the acting -- and, more specifically, the adoption of attitudes by the cast.
The specimens on display in "Friends" include a pompous twit of a college drama teacher (Ben Stiller), his alienated live-in girlfriend (Catherine Keener), his blisteringly misogynistic obstetrician buddy (Jason Patric), his bourgeois businessman best pal (Aaron Eckhart) and his naive, frigid writer wife (Amy Brenneman), and an art gallery employee (Natassja Kinski) with whom they all converse and whose lesbianism becomes a plot point. In the course of their confessions, tirades, debates, pillow talk, flirting, quarreling and locker room boasting, a small plot about the crisscrossing and breakup of relationships forms: barely a ripple of a narrative, really, and not all that convincing as drama.
The real action is in the acting -- and, more specifically, the adoption of attitudes by the cast. Particularly good is Keener, an actress who has given solid performances in such films as "Living in Oblivion" and "The Real Blonde." Bitter and aloof here, she is an emasculating warrior woman with deep wounds, no regrets and a surprising, fleeting softness. As her male equivalent, Patric, who has the most vulgar and misogynistic stuff to spout, seems far more labored and deliberate. His big set pieces are exquisitely written -- LaBute has a terrific touch with monologues -- but, as in almost all of his acting, an air of studied manner undercuts his intensity. The rest of the cast can't compare with the impression that these two make; Brenneman and Kinskit don't have real characters to play, and Stiller and Eckhart don't seem to have bought fully into LaBute's bile.
"Friends" is written as if with etching acids, and shot, cut and framed with precision and grace. But it still keeps you at a distant remove. Are our friends and neighbors this soulless, selfish and awful? LaBute is confident in declaring that they are, but the smart money is against him.
Rating: **** [4 out of 5 stars]
Bad date-movie alert: This poison-pen letter to modern lovers fulfills the promise of writer-director Neil LaBute's controversial debut, IN THE COMPANY OF MEN, which is to say that the fights should start well before the end credits roll. The friends and neighbors are two couples -- married Mary (Amy Brenneman) and Barry (Aaron Eckhart), and unmarried Terri (Catherine Keener) and Jerry (Ben Stiller) -- plus bachelor Cary (Jason Patric), for whom dating is a blood sport, and wildcard Cheri (Nastassja Kinski), who crosses paths with all of them. Both couples are painfully mismatched, in bed and out: Terri and Jerry bicker constantly, even during sex, while Mary and Barry avoid squabbles by talking in platitudes and avoiding troublesome subjects. Cary brings out the inner scumbag in both his buddies -- especially Barry -- and two affairs start the relationship dominoes falling, while the fools in love gently tear each other limb from limb. Where IN THE COMPANY OF MEN suffered from uneven performances, this dyspeptic emotional peep show benefits from the services of a top-notch and beautifully matched cast. The horror of LaBute's articulate, self-deluded characters is that they're both sharply drawn and just vague enough that you can insert face here: They never address each another by their sound-alike names, the city where they live is conspicuously unidentified, their jobs are vague but give off a certain urban cachet: businessman, medical professional, writer, actor, gallery assistant. And they're all masters of the emotional surgical strike, though Patric -- who also served as producer -- has the flashiest role. Should he want to pursue the role of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, his performance as Cary would serve as a fine (if mercifully bloodless) audition piece: The scene in which he drop-kicks an anatomical model of a fetus is simply chilling.
Rating: *** [3 out of 5 stars]
Talk, talk, talk.
I'm ordinarily a fan of "low budget talkies," as I believe Oz called them once. But there was something about Your Friends And Neighbors that didn't really do it for me. I think that part of the reason is that there's not a single character in the film who's not portrayed in a bad light.
As I write this, I've not seen writer/director Neil LaBute's first effort, In The Company Of Men. I'm told it's a superior film. I'd hope so.
Jerry and Terri (Ben Stiller and Catherine Keener) are a couple. He talks during sex. A lot. Too much, even. That's her complaint with him, and it leads him into a pseudo affair with Mary (Amy Brenneman), the wife of his friend Barry (Aaron Eckhart). Mary and Barry are having trouble, too. Barry's got erection problems, and feels that the best lover he could have is his hand. Meanwhile, Terri, unfulfilled, ends up with Cheri (Natassja Kinski). Add in Cary (Jason Patric), who's a womanizer and a monumental prick, and you've got six characters who aren't the least bit likeable.
Labute writes good dialogue, I'll give him that. That's his strength. His direction is spare: elementary point and shoot. But the characters aren't interesting (and having their names all rhyme, all be practically as interchangeable as their love lives, is annoying as hell). Stiller is in quirky mode (again), Brenneman is as disinterested in her performance as her character is in sex, Keener is practically comatose, and Kinski can't really get into her character. Patric is good - really good, like redeeming himself from Speed 2 good - but his character is such a jackass that you don't really care for him. Eckhart is also quite good, although you question that anyone might be as dense as he is.
It's not a dark romantic comedy, so don't let the ads fool you, and for God's sake, don't take your date to see this movie; you may never have sex again. It's actually kind of disturbing; not in the sense that you can't believe that people are like this, but that deep down, you know that people really are. I know of at least one person who could be an amalgamation of the male characters: I went to high school with him. That scares me that this movie could essentially be about him. Yikes.
In the end though, it's not enough. The dialogue is great, but coming out of these actors and these characters, it's almost a bore.
Fleeting moments of brilliance, a cool score (courtesy of Apocalyptica) and good dialogue. But it doesn't add up.
A movie that starts out furious and pretty much ends up that way. Neil LaBute, the sharp-tongued provocateur behind In the Company of Men this time gets to excoriate the sexual mores and misbehaviors of everyone, ever, not just the male half of the world. It's nice when a director grows, I guess, but Your Friends & Neighbors seems a little too bilious, not to mention a little tonally untempered, to convince anyone that LaBute is as promising a filmmaker as he'd like to be, or that he has any reason to be so wrapped around the axle about everything.
In the Cheap Shot Awards of 1998, a big statuette will have to go to the director-screenwriter who named his six urban jungefolk Mary, Barry, Terri, Cheri, Cary, and Jerry. The gesture--which only becomes apparent in the end credits of the picture, so anonymously do these dried-out souls interact with one another--makes them all seem absurd, and seems to undermine LaBute's point that they might represent anything about the rest of the human condition. If my name's not a homonym, may I assume that I'm off the great big hook of LaBute's cynicism? Let's hope so. At the very least, the echo-style naming underscores the fact that all of these characters are essentially minor riffs on one another.
Jerry and Terri (Ben Stiller and Catherine Keener) are lovers running on inertia who find that things work better when they just don't talk to one another. Terri would like to extend this mandate to their carnal encounters, closing off completely and rolling over with a slew of verbal lacerations as soon as Jerry starts grunting and exclaiming. He, by contrast, cannot figure out what the big problem is. "I am accused of speaking" he tells his male pals, in total consternation as to how to address a problem that, by definition, denies him a way to address anything. Terri just wants everyone to shut up.
Mary, played with a dewy, reserved watchfulness by former NYPD Blue-er Amy Brenneman, only wishes she had something to say, but seems to be at a permanent loss in understanding the dynamics of her own marriage, much less the couples around her. Mary's silence seems at least partially attributable to a recognition on her part that she is neither angry nor bloodthirsty enough to compete with these people. Barry can't believe his own good luck at having scored such a beautiful, uncomplaining wife. He's so delighted with the way things have worked out that he can't stop pleasuring himself even when she's gone to sleep on the other side of the bed; it is with surprising good cheer that he admits to a co-worker that he has never had a sexual experience as gratifying as those he supplies on his own. Aaron Eckhart, who ignited In the Company of Men with his cobra-like magnetism, makes an admirable about-face playing this loser, but it's not a commanding enough performance to really confirm him as a promising talent.
The other two characters in this vicious sextet are the most problematic. Nastassja Kinski's Cheri is an insipid secretary at an art gallery, or at least that's what she seems to be. Her entree into the picture is her recurring pattern of hijacking a series of visitors to the gallery--many of Neighbors' protagonists included--with the same set of curious-bystander questions. This formal aspect of Kinski's role never allows for much fullness of actual characterization, so this striking beauty is stuck with yet another role that hides whatever acting gifts she may or may not possess.
Finally, in the film's most discussed role, Jason Patric emerges from the vortex of Speed 2 (at least he has some reason to be furious) to play a misognynist so hateful that the populace of LaBute's previous film seem almost demure. The screenplay overreaches in portraying Cary, whom we are asked to believe is such a villain that his most fondly-remembered sexual release arrived when he helped gang-rape a feeble male classmate in a high-school gym class. Cary's wickedness seems a bit too extreme to accept, and Patric's self-conscious "change of pace" approach to playing him doesn't help. We wish all the more that he had never been conceived.
Don't get me wrong, LaBute's movie keeps moving at an efficient little clip, and more than a few of the dialogue exchanges are engaging enough even when they don't lead anywhere. Ben Stiller's trademark comic ditheriness is an interesting ingredient in all the mix, perhaps because he makes Jerry seem aware of both the deadliness and the absurdity of the goings-on of the plot. Meanwhile, Catherine Keener, the shining light of Walking and Talking and Tom DiCillo's films, is utterly riveting. Her Terri, forktongued as she often sounds, is at least relentlessly honest and often even witty, and Keener's intelligent style--passing all kinds of thoughts across her prominent, off-kilter features--makes all the difference in showing LaBute's anger by making it seem to come from somewhere. Terri's rage is, for her, the least of several evils; no one understands her when she asks for what she wants, and just keeping silent invites all sorts of irritating questions. Being pissed off all the time is her only solution for being as contented as possible without intrusion or aggravation. You wouldn't want to have a cup of coffee with her, but you're happy to see her take a few classic stabs at Patric, and it's an indelible portrait bound to go down as one of the year's best.
Your Friends & Neighbors itself, however, is not even a standout in the context of August, a famously dry month that doesn't feel any fuller for the addition of this vaguely proficient but hard and soulless exercise. You couldn't call this picture a sophomore slump, really, especially if like me you were not convinced by In the Company of Men that LaBute was a budding genius. Your Friends & Neighbors extends those habits of spitefulness and schematism that are already LaBute's big pitfalls, while his signal strength of precise dialogue is too rarely put in the service of characters with any dimension. I'll still be curious to see what LaBute comes up with next, but if it's just another document of mantis-like men and women who devour each other after mating, I don't think I'm the only viewer who will stop showing up at his table.
Rating: *** [3 out of 5 stars]
What does anyone in Hollywood know? You can make a movie with absolutely no likeable characters.
Neil LaBute does exactly that with this highly anticipated follow-up to In the Company of Men, a film so anti-humanity it's practically a sequel.
Sadly, LaBute doesn't quite pull off Your Friends and Neighbors, and compared to Company (a film that was this critic's #1 film of 1997), it pales considerably.
Why? Well, turns out there's just not much of a story here. Sure, each of these characters are bizarre and twisted enough to amuse you through the 99-minute running time of the picture, but in the end, you realize there really wasn't much of a point to any of it. And LaBute has engineered it that way: he doesn't want you to get attached to these people. In fact, the characters don't even have names! (However, they are “named” in the credits of the film.)
Just look at the roll call: Keener couldn't look worse if you dragged her through mud. Eckhart must have gained 50 pounds for his bohunk role (and not in a good way). Brenneman is a nearly frigid woman who still makes room for adultery. Stiller is a total basket case. Kinski is apparently a brainless moron. And Patric, well, you'll just have to hear some of his misogynistic prattle to believe what they've done to him. Oddly, Patric's sadistic OB/GYN is the most compelling player in the bunch, for sheer shock value alone. Still, it goes to show that just because you can make a movie with six hateful characters... doesn't mean you should.
Neighbors also suffers from hideous cinematography (by Nancy Schreiber) which is out of focus half the time and bad editing (by Joel Plotch) that feels pieced together with scissors and snot. Altogether, LaBute just seems out of sorts doing an ensemble piece that tries to tell too many stories but ends up telling them all badly.
Not that I blame him for trying. It certainly was an ambitious project and it does have some pretty hilarious moments.
Better luck next time.
Rating: ** [2 out of 4 stars]
Figure (senza) paesaggio. Neil LaBute aveva già estratto dalla manica, girando Nella Società Degli Uomini, l'asso di uno sguardo acido e cattivo su mondi desolanti di solitudine interiore. Mancanza di comunicazione, viltà, desiderio di accanirsi sui più deboli, mediocrità, erano le parole d'ordine di due impiegati d'alto bordo, impegnati a raggirare una sordomuta e, a modo loro, vittime inconsapevoli di questo triste gioco. Orbene, Amici e Vicini è molto più di tutto questo. Perché si appoggia, delicatamente, su un contesto ambientale tipico della commedia. Sembra, all'apertura dello schermo, di essere finiti nel mezzo delle nevrosi urbane di Woody Allen. Ma da ridere non c'è molto, nel valzer delle coppie che porta l'insegnante di teatro Jerry ad intrecciare una relazione con Mary, moglie dell'amico Barry (alle prese con un problemino d'impotenza), e spedirà Terri, compagna di Jerry, nelle braccia della saffica Cheri. Come se non bastasse, c'è il cinico e maschilista Cary, amico di Jerry/Mary/Barry/Terri, coro (negativo) di tutta la vicenda. Le simpatiche freccette che univano le immagini dei personaggi nel trailer sono forse l'unico elemento "vitale" di tutto il film. Già l'assonanza dei nomi fa sì che il paesaggio sonoro si appiattisca in un mormorio sommesso, che si trasforma presto in un brusio indistinto. Non sono propriamente afasici, gli "amici e vicini", ma semplicemente preda di un dialogo autoreferenziale, dove tutti parlano senza ascoltare gli altri, e dicono sempre le stesse cose. In genere si scusano, trovano giustificazioni, o chiedono, ricattano, vogliono solo per sé. Le relazioni sessuali diventano fonte di continua umiliazione, le tappe della lenta e penosa edificazione di un nulla che LaBute racconta con il consueto, apparente distacco, tenendo sempre gli attori al centro dell'inquadratura, come a chiedere conto del loro drammatico modo di comportarsi.
E' un cinema profondamente morale, questo, coraggiosamente radicale nell'asciuttezza del suo stile, vicino, per certi versi, a quello altrettanto morale e radicale di Todd Solondz. Quella della commedia è solo un impressione, una patina che contestualizza i meccanismi del racconto, ma non rende certo più sopportabile l'insieme. Non c'è nessun compiacimento rohmeriano, nell'intrecciare i letti. Neppure evocare l'alienazione come l'avrebbe dipinta Bergman può essere consolatorio, perché non viene indicata nessuna via possibile d'uscita. La meschinità di Jerry, preso nel mostrare le sue doti di conquistatore ed egoisticamente concentrato sul proprio tornaconto, il dramma di Barry, incapace di trarre piacere persino da una rivista pornografica, la solitudine volontaria di Mary, la noia di Terri che si riversa sulle paranoie lesbiche di Cheri, l'aggressività verbale e fallocentrica di Cary tornano, in qualche modo, sempre indietro, come un perfido boomerang. Come tutti i moralisti, LaBute è anche un grande esperto di contrappassi. Ne aveva disegnato uno magistrale per concludere Nella Società Degli Uomini, condannando Howard, l'impiegato basso e goffo, ad essere escluso dall'universo sonoro del mondo, la stessa pena che era toccata alla vittima di quel gioco crudele. In Amici e Vicini, tutti rimangono tra le loro, inconcludenti, quattro pareti. E così sia.
Grande merito della riuscita dell'operazione va ad un cast di tutto rispetto. Il grande Aaron Eckhart (con baffi) riesce nell'impresa ardua di trasformare i suoi occhi beffardi in quelli di un fallito assoluto. Ben Stiller, ormai assuefatto ai ruoli da loser, è nevrotico al punto giusto, mentre per Nastassja Kinski, la gallerista omosessuale, c'è il dramma più grande, quello di entrare in contatto con tutti, e rifiutare tutti, o essere rifiutata.
Rating: *** 1/2 [3.5 out of 4 stars]
Your Friends & Neighbors could have been called Your Fiends & Backstabbers, the characters are so unlikable and viscous. Written (and directed) by clever dialog prince Neil LaBute, this one is going to make you look at people around you a little closer...
This film is sheer brilliance and impeccably performed by some of our finest.YFAN is delightfully unique from the get-go. Bitter city folks galore, clever writing and an ensemble cast of America's up and comers make it a flick you really should make a point of seeing. Not all will enjoy it- it's rough around the edges.
Also, I warn you, there's not a studly-do-rights to be seen. Ben Stiller is as close as we get to a stud muffin, well, a day old supermarket croissant that i s- 'nuff said? Ben's just too creepy to be jumpable. He's got that perpetual about-to-morph-into a-werewolf look . He is a great actor/comic though, no matter how hirsute. His short lived show on Fox, still has me pulling over giggling at remembered various scenes! Find copies on Ebay -trust me.
YFAN's characters hit very close to home-and on each other. There's the quintessential Mr. Sports-Creep-Woman-Hater-Macho-Gynecologist (Jason Patric) who drop kicks a plastic fetus. Sick man. He is every single chick's nightmare--seems good-looking and suave bolla on the outside then wham! He's a psycho with exponents!
Next there's the Ms. I-Can't-Say-F--- But-I'll-Cheat-On-My-Husband Anyway-Cause-I'm-a-Raging-Hypocrite (Amy Brenneman) followed by Mr. No-one-Can-Do-Me-Like-I-Can-Do-Myself (Aaron Eckhart, who incidentally po-po-porked out Since his last woman-hating movie, In the Company of Vermin...er, Men another director Labute great) And of course, Ms. Is- She-A-Dyke-or-Isn't-She? Played by the fantastic, as always, Catherine Keener. Keener is infamous in the "indie" world yet never quite a mainstream being. Pitty. She's of our finest working actresses- see anything with her and you'll be happy. Her face will be immediately familiar. She picks her work carefully I imagine, 'cause I can't remember seeing anything that isn't, at least, interesting with her name attached.
Story goes.. we hang out and watch several couples who claim to be friends discuss and work through their relationships.
Nastassja Kinski is fabulous. She never seems to age. Hey, wasn't her dad Nosferatu? Hmmmm.
The script and scenes are very real. It's a great story of who's sleeping with who and who can actually get it up to sleep with whom. This LaBute guy directs a great ensemble of young actors, I can't wait to see more of--ah, perhaps with a tad more clothes on though
It's a PBS documentary on modern relationships on acid. Enjoy. WARNING: Do not consume food products before this flick the declothed cast will have you hurling! This is no Ralph Fiennes Nude at the Beach Day--know what I mean? At one point Ben is prancing around in his Calvins and shows his breeding. He should use some of the money that's pouring in from Something About Mary for breast liposuction before he needs "The Manzere." Poor guy.
SNACK RECOMMENDATION: None. Due to the explicit grossness of the often declothed cast.
Rating: ** [2 out of 4 stars]
Your Friends and Neighbors by Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men) is must-see cinema, though you will come away from it depressed and angry. In the midst of our frivolous, postmodern era, LaBute has, at least in this film, a true modernist edge to him. Like Beckett or Pinter he presents us with a world that is frighteningly bleak and nasty, but whose resemblance to our own world it is impossible to ignore. True, he overstates his case. The pretentious title, like his refusal to name his six major characters during the film itself, is meant to suggest a universality that is really just vulgar "pessimism" or fashionable cynicism. It is not justified by his material. But, that having been said, we have to admire the corner of reality he has staked out for himself while ignoring the implied Grand Statement about the failure of communication in "relationships.
Only with the end credits do we learn that the major characters bear the joke names Mary (Amy Brenneman), Barry (Aaron Eckhart), Terri (Catherine Keener), Cheri (Nastassja Kinski), Cary (Jason Patric) and Jerry (Ben Stiller). Mary is married to Barry, an uxorious husband who does not satisfy her in bed, and they are good friends with Jerry, a drama teacher who sleeps with his students, and Terri, his live-in girlfriend. Jerry likes to talk during sex; Terri can't bear it. "Any talking at all just kills it for me. Maybe it's just me," she says, "but f***ing is f***ing. It's not a time for sharing, I don't care what anybody says." The question: "Is it me?" is picked up from the anxiously incompetent Barry and resonates throughout the film in one form or another.
Barry and Jerry are friends with Cary, a bachelor gynaecologist who begins the movie in one of its several memorable scenes by rehearsing himself for a sexual encounter in which he is trying to fake the tiniest bit of tenderness to veneer the surface of his barely controlled violence and contempt, not only for women but for the world at large. "Yeah. I believe that," he says, satisfied with his rehearsal. "I mean, if I were a chick I'd believe that." Four of these five characters meet Cheri in an art gallery where she is an "artist's assistant" and conduct an identical dialogue with her until all diverge in ways appropriate to themselves. Cheri is a passive vehicle whose purpose it is to bring out the essential character of others. She ends up sleeping with Terri and, like Jerry, begging her for verbal assurances which are not forthcoming.
The other way in which the characters are compared is when they talk, in different contexts of "the best you ever had" sexually. Barry's best, for instance, is himself. "Nobody makes me come the way I do." But the movie's most memorable and disturbing scene comes as Barry, Jerry and Cary are shown in a sauna, while Cary describes to the other two the best he ever had, which was his part in the homosexual gang rape of a high school classmate called Timmy. "We were some crazy f***ers at that age," Cary laughs, scarcely noticing the slack-jawed astonishment of Barry and Jerry. "It's never been like that with a woman, as many as I have had. Not even close." He adds that Timmy "did everything right. . .He never turned us in. I admired him for that . . .He felt something special happened too, I'm sure of it."
The possibility of an elaborate put-on has to be considered here, but Cary's humorlessness and pathological sense of justice -- "You would have taken the same steps," he insists to his two friends, "common decency dictated the whole thing" -- suggest that he really does bear his full part in LaBute's triptych of what sex reduces to among men. And which of the distaff trio will he end up with? The heartless Terri, who is his female counterpart? Or his opposite, the frightened and passive Cheri? Or perhaps the needy adventuress, Mary? I will not spoil the surprise, but the final moments of the film in which all the characters are shown in their most characteristic sexual postures culminate in a scene between Cary and one of them that is almost as remarkable and depressing as the tale of Timmy. Decent folk will come away from this movie determined to take a vow of celibacy, but it can't be denied that it is a work of genius.
Video: 4.5 out of 5
Audio: 2 out of 5
Extras: 3 out of 5
Overall: 3 out of 5
Not too long ago, a movie came out called "In the Company of Men". I had heard about it and was waiting to see it. I did. I had never seen a more evil, vicious person than the one played by Aaron Eckhart. So, naturally, when "Your Friends and Neighbors" came out on DVD, I was interested to say the least.
While not nearly as offensive (to me at least) than "...Men", it still has it's share of shocking statements. The film follows 6 people. Two sets of couples and two individuals. Playing almost the complete opposite, Aaron Eckhart plays a conservative, if not complete wimp of a husband. Amy Brenneman plays his wife. Their problem is his impotence. Ben Stiller is a college professor, who has tendancies to "date" his students, but is also living with Cheri (Nastassja Kinski). Oh, before I go any further, let me just say that the six characters names are: Mary, Cheri, Jerry, Barry, Cary and Teri. That toatlly annoyed me. Anyway, it seems that Cheri has met someone else at an art gallery (in a scene that's replayed about five times, that got old too), who happens to be a woman.
Lying, cheating and affairs all happen, but with little effect. I just couldn't bring myself to care for these characters. Jason Patrick plays possibly the meanest person in the world, who is also a complete male chouvanist (obviously trying to recreate the villan from "...Men"). Anyway, I could go on, but it would just be rambling, much like the entire movie. Too many "I, uh's and huh's".
Bottom line: If you're a fan of the director, give it a look. It moves very slow, though...
About the best thing that can be said for this movie is that it is crystal clear. Polygram (now USA video) has given this film the "benefit" of 16:9 enhancement. Picture is stunning.
Well, the box says Dolby Digital 5.1 and my receiver recognized it as such, but the sound is limited to center channel only, except in the opening credits and ending credits. I had my A/C on and had to turn it off, because I couldn't hear what was being said. Very disappointing.
A commentary was included, which is always nice, but it moved slower than the movie, and I honestly didn't listen to all of it. A trailer and production notes and cast bios were included as well.
Billing itself as "A modern immorality tale", Neil LaBute's follow-up to his wildly successful "In the Company of Men" is an interesting exercise in film-making - with its static structure and repetitive rhythms, it sometimes recalls some of Alan Parker's films, and proves to be equally engaging and enjoyable.
The film deals with six individuals, all headed toward a lifetime of unhappiness. The root cause of their frustration, according to LaBute's literate and often sharp script, is sex. Indeed, every character is defined by sex - be it orientation, preference, habit, skill - and the game of sexual manipulation and back-stabbing, all in the name of "friendship" (the words "best friend" literally becomes an obscene term thanks to this film) is at once horrific, yet compelling, to watch.
Jerry (Ben Stiller) is a drama teacher with a penchant for noisy sex, a habit his girlfriend Terri (Catherine Keener) abhors. Soon, Jerry is putting the moves on Mary (Amy Brenneman), the wife of his close friend Barry (Aaron Eckhart). The latter couple are also caught in a sexually frustrated relationship, with Barry proclaiming himself to be the best sex he ever had. This last comment, however, is better applied to Cary (Jason Patric), a misogynist gynecologist with an overwhelming need to use sex as punishment and punishment as gratification. Wafting through the trio of men and their women is Cherri (Nastassja Kinski), an art gallery assistant who is continually propositioned and who becomes a victim to their sexual machinations.
Filmed in a series of beautifully staged sequences, LaBute's painterly approach to the film medium adds a layer of resonance to his film - it is as if his invocation of still life images (and make no mistake, this is a very pretty film to look at) traps his characters in a flat canvas from which they will never be able to escape, no matter how much violence they inflict on each other. The closed, stuffy atmosphere further raises the stakes by drawing the audience into the increasingly desperate lives of the protagonists. Like a master artist, LaBute's artwork both displays and interacts with its audience, and the result is a film that can be unsettling even as it entertains.
The ensemble cast gathered here is the film's greatest asset. Amy Brenneman, long wasted in nothing roles like the ones she took in "Heat" and "Daylight", is given the most pathetic role in the script. The difference, however, is how she confidently assails Mary's many contradictions. Seemingly happy and balanced, she is a mass of nerves and insecurities, and she ends the film in a position the audience may empathize with, be shocked by, or condemn her for. The point is that Brenneman's work here is the best she's done on the big screen so far, and one hopes she finds another role of equal complexity and subtlety to show off her talent. Aaron Eckhart, the star of "In the Company of Men", here plays a character totally different from his last outing with LaBute. Given the quality of work he's turned in so far, one hopes that Eckhart becomes to LaBute, what Chris Eigeman is to Whit Stillman. Putting on some flab and growing an unwieldy moustache (Eckhart is a good case study of how facial hair on the wrong man can turn a handsome face into an insipid one), he plays Barry as somewhat of a sad sack loser in life and in love; although the character, as written, is somewhat selfish and clueless, Eckhart manages to make him endearing, even sweet. Nastassja Kinski returns from the "whatever happened to..." pile by taking on the small but significant role of Cherri. Her character is sketchy and more an ideal than a three-dimensional person, but she brings with her that incandescence that sparked up the screen in Roman Polanski's "Tess", and she radiates the warmth and genuinity that her character needs in order to stand out in this sea of sexual barracudas.
The film's three greatest performances, however, are given by Stiller, Patric and Keener. In what may be the film's most arduous role, Stiller again shows that he is a gifted comic actor capable of finding the drama and sadness that fuels some of life's funniest moments. Jerry is a jerk, but somehow, we still care about what happens to him. Treading a fine line between pathos and bathos, Stiller's performance is superbly skilled and controlled. He is matched exquisitely by Catherine Keener's funniest and most enjoyable turn so far. The Indie queen who's appeared in practically all of Tom DiCillo's movies has always been a joy to watch, but she's never quite taken on a role so assertive and bitchy as Terri. It's nice to see her bare her fangs and lash out at anyone and everyone, and she makes Terri the most compelling of the trio of females in the film, her troubles unfathomable, her joys short-lived. Also breaking out of the mold is Jason Patric (also returning from the "whatever happened to..." pile). Often cast as the goody-two-shoes (see "The Journey of August King", "Sleepers" etc), he brings new meaning to the term "narcissism" in his characterization of Cary. He also has the film's most startling monologue and some of its best lines, and he does all the material great justice. This is the kind of performance that reawakens audiences to his potential, and one hopes the memory of "Speed 2" will soon fade away.
Neil LaBute is fast cornering the market on documenting the sexual politics of our times. One hopes, however, he finds new material for his next film. "Your Friends and Neighbors" may be a riot to watch and chuckle at, but he cannot mine the same material much longer. Already, some scenes in the film feel a little strained. However, given the calibre of talent and the quality of the work on display here, one feels confident that LaBute will move on successfully. In the meantime, pay a visit to those near and dear to you at your nearest cineplex - you'll be laughing nervously all the way.
If In the Company of Men was an assured debut, Your Friends and Neighbors is a confirmation of an uncommon talent. It's that rare thing, a second feature that actually improves on the audacious debut that preceded it.
The most talked about aspect of In the Company of Men was, of course, its apparent misogyny. Personally, I think LaBute is more a misanthropist than a misogynist. He may dislike women, but that's only because they make up half the population. To simply see misogyny was to fail to recognise the film's ironies and its theme of masculine conflicts, with the Iago-like Chad (ab)using a woman as a means of getting at his male victim. Your Friends and Neighbors seems to confirms this. Of its six main characters - two unhappily married couples (Ben Stiller and Catherine Keener and Amy Brenneman and Aaron Eckhart), a borderline sexual psychopath (Jason Patrick), and a lesbian artists assistant (Natassja Kinski) - none are exactly what you'd call pleasant. They lie to and cheat on each other with abandon. But in every case the men come across as far worse.
An emerging LaBute signature is an audacious use of music. Your Friends and Neighbors takes the already sparse approach of its predecessor further, with intriguing fragments of Metallica on cellos. LaBute's mise-en-scene has also developed. Using widescreen for intimate chamber cinema is always a challenge. He meets it with aplomb, skilfully framenting space to highlight the emotional distances between characters. It's surely no accident that at one point we see a prominently placed poster for Godard's Le Mepris, that textbook example of the ironic possibilities of widescreen. The film also showcases LaBute's obvious talent for getting great performances. This raises the question of what Catherine Keener, a perennial scene-stealer, must do to to get the recognition she deserves.
If the film has a weakness it's perhaps some improbable plotting. I'm thinking here of the way in which each of the three men visits the gallery where Kinski works and proceeds to embark on the same conversation/chat-up attempt. But even this contrivance can be forgiven. LaBute uses it as a way of showing their lack of insight compared to Keener's character: Only another woman realises that "artist's assistant" means "glorified secretary".
LaBute, then, has followed up an acclaimed debut with an even more accomplished piece of film-making. I wouldn't be surprised if this one soon gets labelled a 'modern classic'.
Rating: ** [2 out of 4 stars]
When Neil LaBute's neighbors discuss the nature of goodness, they wonder what it's good for. The 35-year old director who debuted with last year's corrosive In the Company of Men once again waves the red flag in the war between the sexes. Man's inhumanity to women seemed the snaky undercurrent of his earlier picture. Rather, his anti-romantic sparring matches, written in the trim, acerbic manner of his mentor, David Mamet, express a more universal hostility--basic human unkindness.
In Your Friends and Neighbors, the cast has doubled to six inconsolable couples. Until the credits roll, they have no names. Not much is known about their personal backgrounds, given their professional status. They're supposed to represent society at its shallowest, lending a behind-closed-doors peek at our own "friends and neighbors." LaBute consciously excludes the sort of biographical information that he badly needs in order to garner sympathy. Instead, these self-obsessed characters come across as flat and hyper-stylized. We learn more about their pores through probing, unflattering close-ups. These self-obsessed yuppies seem the physical embodiment of their chic, showroom apartments (set in an undisclosed Everycity). Nobody speaks with their fractured pauses and pop-cultural cliches... unless, of course, they're spotlit on a stage. Coming from a thespian background (earning his master's in drama at NYU and studying at the Royal Court Theatre in London), LaBute must unlearn rules that conflict with filmmaking. He's got to think with his camera. Most of his material takes place indoors. The settings resemble theatre sets because the characters hardly move. Shot in wide-angle, waist-level, the actors sit (and so does the scene). There's nothing physical for them to focus on. Men and women woo in a parade of swanky coffee houses, secondhand book stores and avant-garde galleries, gabbing about their favorite subject: themselves. Each scene ends with a punctuation note, a particularly scathing bon mot. The curtain thuds. This predictable rhythm resumes. It brings to mind French farces (Stiller's character, a theatre prof, dons a dust-encrusted wig, spoofing the reference.) Of course, Restoration writers couldn't pace their plots without keeping time. When a candle winked out, the scene climaxed.
Company worked well despite a heavy dependence on theatrical techniques. His verbal feuds had such ferocity, they demanded attention. Inevitably, his sophomore effort (written before the first film) fails because it lacks the other's shock value (and wit). In that case, there was a story to tell, a "modern immorality" tale that made us think. This time, LaBute's more interested in entertaining himself. He's lost the point of all this carnal knowledge. Now it seems like macho locker room one-up-manship. While Aaron Eckhart's cruel Lothorio represented an all-too familiar, urban breed of monster, this movie's miscreant (played by co-producer Jason Patric) tries too hard to intimidate. He's a cartoonish baddie who blows up when a ladyfriend bleeds on his 300-thread sheets. He practices his pillow talk while masturbating into a tape-recorder. His best bedding was a homosexual gang-rape in high-school. LaBute makes him a gyno, much too facile as metaphor, tossing around a plastic anatomical baby like a football.
Ben Stiller, bespectacled and sporting a fungus-like goatee threaded with gray, talks too much during the deed, so his girlfriend dumps him and switches sexual orientation. Catherine Keener, a scheming ad writer who scribes copy for tampon boxes, plays like the boys and pays for it in bed. Natassja Kinski, her conquest, is a passive-aggressive arm-charm, filtering passes from everyone. Eckhardt goes against type, packing on extra bloat as the spineless husband who prefers self-love to his seductive wife, Amy Brenneman. In Company, the villain was clear. For this sextet, redemption is unlikely. As exemplified by the final exchange in flagrante delicto, there's more than a single monster on the loose. The first is easy to recognize. The other dons a gentler disguise. Which is worse? The one who confesses his crimes or those who try to conceal them?
The cast is well-chosen, the script ambitious but flawed. LaBute's too brainy for such a sub-bourgeoisie preoccupation with gossipy dialogue, riddled with cultural allusion. The titles rise over Alex Katz paintings. Is this what the characters see when they admire an invisible work in the gallery? Or is it us, the audience, whom they address? A Metallica score blares in the background, sawed on cellos. It's as if the director is saying, don't confuse my work for art with a capital A. Yet it still prides itself on its own social significance. "Are you good?" someone asks Patric. He considers the question. "Good for what?" he says. Truth isn't beauty. That's all we need to know.
Rating: **** [4 out of 5 stars]
It's true how the saying goes - "if you want reality, look out the window." The fascinating thing about watching a Neil LaBute film is that they serve as the windows, peaking into lives of disillusioned oddballs; people who represent different elements of society, all trapped inside LaBute's narrative prisms that reflect different parts of ourselves back at us.
LaBute's astounding debut film In the Company of Men quickly glided in and out of selected Australian cinemas last year, suffering from more than just a few negative reviews, and presumably relied on audience word of mouth for the few people who were fortunate enough to see it. The film was meticulously plotted and sharply directed by LaBute, who laced every one of its scenes with dark - some might say twisted - humor, not before developing a screenplay that functioned both as a character study and a manifestation of the director's biting views on corporate life in America. He turned a roller coaster of a screenplay into a power house film; a movie that builds blazingly fast physiological momentum in the minds of those who watch it, before the inevitably nasty conclusion that puts a new resonance on everything that preceded it. It's an experience that's hard to shake.
Also hard to shake - but on a different level - is Your Friends and Neighbors, which, like the film before it, promises to tell us as much about its characters as it does ourselves. In essence, the film is very much like a stage play in that its settings and backdrops are not crucial to its plot; for instance, LaBute often films in a supermarket or a bookstore because, heck, these are places for us simply to listen to his characters talk. And they do talk. The vast majority of the film is dialogue based, and this ensures lengthy conversations between the five principal characters.
It was hard to write a synopsis for this film, since no character's name is ever mentioned in all of its running time - the characters talk to each other as if they are strangers (my kingdom for a festival press kit!). Only after the film could I find out their names. Drama teacher Jerry (Ben Stiller) is told to "shut the f--- up" during sex by his girlfriend Terri (Catherine Keener) - it appears he talks too much. Jerry's best friend Barry (Aaron Eckhart, who played Chad to perfection in In the Company of Men) is having sexual difficulties with his wife Mary (Amy Brenneman). He is not worried about the situation, however, because Barry firmly believes that no woman can make love to him quite like he can. Jerry and Barry's pal Cary (Jason Patric) is a ruthlessly honest and aggressive womanizer. All the characters search for happiness in the form of sexual bliss, and none of them can seem to find satisfaction (LaBute includes a lesbian, a couple of affairs and a retelling of a homosexual encounter for good measure).
Your Friends and Neighbors is really about a failure of communication in society, in an age where sexual innocence has not only been lost, it's been trampled on. It's hard to pinpoint the foundations of the film's themes - exactly where it is coming or what it is trying to achieve - but that's all part of LaBute's confronting direction. With tight camera shots that seemed shoved right in front of the actors faces, he brings us right into the picture, then tells us everything we think we need to know, only for us to later realize that he really didn't tell us much at all.
That's not to say that the dialogue in Your Friends and Neighbors is shallow, instead, it's just very restrained, and flows awkwardly with a strong sense of familiarity - a sense that we've talked about similar things ourselves, even though the truth might be that we've never mustered up enough courage to ask our friends about the best f--- they've ever had (and, if this is a frequent topic in your conversations, chances are you'll have never heard anything quite like Jason Patric's post-gym shower story). With so much talking but so little reflection on their own lives, we must presume that sometime off-screen the characters are doing the real talking, the soul-searching within themselves. We must presume this because otherwise the characters become too robotic, too cold to be intimate with, but so damn ruthless that we can't help but enjoy watching and being disgusted by them - they're all Mr Hydes and no Dr Jekles. We can presume, safely, that much of LaBute's power comes from the things he doesn't tell us.
He is certainty a glass-is-half-empty kind of director, but it would be naive to presume that he doesn't have reason for being so. LaBute's a director without subtlety, and a writer whose screenplays are tight, somber and aggressive in tone. Whilst Your Friends and Neighbors is not the incredible film that In the Compmany of Men was, it's an experimental piece that's works on similar levels (although toned down a few notches in comparison). LaBute does take some missteps on the way, including allowing his narrative to become a little too void of action, and the film - although scripted precisely and sharply - feels a little messy upon completion.
Without going into too much detail - I am already pushing my word limit - the film's cast all contribute excellent performances. Ben Stiller displays a confident yet reserved charisma as the scheming Jerry, and Aaron Eckhart and Jason Patric are also fine. The women fare less well, mainly because the men took the meatiest parts.
"If you want reality, look out the window." Screw that. Open the door, and climb inside the world of Neil LaBute. You know you want to. Just don't come running back to me and don't, whatever you do, say I didn't warn you.
Six friends become lovers and ex-lovers, doing each other a lot of damage in the process.
Neil Labute's second film is a no-frills sex drama about emotional violence. It's an improvement on In the Company of Men, having a more complex plot, but like that film you wonder what he is trying to say. Is it that men are bastards and women are their victims? Or is it more complicated than that?
Labute appears to regard his characters with contempt, the male ones especially (there's a poster for Le Mepris on an apartment wall) and Ben Stiller's weasely acting teacher in particular. But what about Jason Patric's aggressive, chauvinistic, alpha male? Do I detect a grudging admiration? He's easily the most successful character, he's full of confidence and he gets the girls (the implication is that the only women not interested in him are lesbians). His monologue about the best sex he ever had is an uncomfortable highlight.
You may not enjoy this film, but you can't deny it's thought-provoking, well made and impressively acted. Then again, you can't quite shake the feeling that it's just an heartless piece of controlled nastiness. Listen for: the character's names. You won't hear them.
I've a hunch that LaBute pulled this one out of the fabled trunk: it plays like juvenilia, something penned during that unfortunate undergrad phase in which compassion seems trite and feeble. Worse, it's painfully repetitive -- LaBute sets up C. Keener's loathing for coital conversation within thirty seconds of the character's introduction, and then is still setting it up over an hour later, for no apparent reason. That said, and massive post-Company letdown acknowledged, it's nonetheless skillfully directed, well acted (by B. Stiller and A. Eckhart in particular), and -- the saving grace -- often queasily hilarious. Bonus points for a rip-roarin', tone-settin' credits sequence: Metallica performed by a frantic string quartet.
Your Friends And Neighbors is a rather bizarre film about 6 people, who hop in and out of bed with each other. Written and directed by Neil LaBute, who' s first film, "In The Company Of Men" was simply marvelous, disappoints a bit here with this one.
The story involves two couples (Ben Stiller & Catherine Keener and Aaron Eckhart & Amy Brenneman), an artist assistant (Nastassja Kinski), and an egotistical women abuser (Jason Patric). The character's names are not apparent and are not mentioned in the entire movie.
Each of the characters has their own sexual style and they don't seem to "merge" together well. So the group experiments behind their respective partners back. There are some hysterical scenes, one involves Jason Patric, Aaron Eckhart, and Ben Stiller's characters. They are all in a sauna, talking about their best "lay", when Jason Patric's character makes a surprising confession. The whole scene is hilarious and exceptionally well written and acted.
The enjoyed this movie, although it seemed a tad lengthy (even though it only runs 99 min.). The film's cast is exceptional with Oscar caliber performances by Catherine Keener, Aaron Eckhart, and Jason Patric. I would not recommend this film, to people who are offended by conversations that are very sexually explicit. It did seem to offend people, more than half of the people in the theater left during the film. Although Your Friends And Neighbors doesn't have the power of LaBute's earlier film it still manages to be somewhat entertaining and funny, while maintaining a melancholy philosophy on human relationships.