Volume 92, Issue 47
Thursday, November 26, 1998
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
The people in your neighbourhood
© Graphic by Luke Rundle
By Craig Mazin
The opening theme to Your Friends and Neighbors is a bizarre version of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" played by a sinister-sounding string quartet. Each jagged note stings like a pin jabbing into the back of one's neck, providing apt preparation for the unsettling viewing experience to follow.
Like writer-director Neil Labute's 1997 debut In The Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors is one of the bleakest and most mesmerizing films of the decade. Labute's psychological study of six young urbanites is unrelenting in its willingness to plumb the shadiest depths of sexual relationships.
Labute's characters are almost exclusively mean, self-serving and gluttonous. While engaged in intercourse with a particularly vocal partner, one female character sensitively inquires, "is there any chance you're gonna shut the fuck up?"
The sexual scenes are, to put it mildly, inelegant. For years, Hollywood's approximation of sex has been an endless stream of perfectly choreographed encounters, complete with simultaneous, toe-curling orgasms and tender cuddling sessions.
Labute obliterates this fallacy of sexual utopia, which has undoubtedly caused much grief among teenagers who assume their initial experiences will mirror those of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic. Given the dysfunctional sex lives portrayed in Your Friends and Neighbors, it seems its characters would do well to pick up some tips from the local high school.
Led by Ben Stiller as the philandering Jerry, the performances in the film are uniformly excellent. Aaron Eckhart, last seen playing the brutally cruel lady-killer from In The Company of Men, makes a flabbergasting transformation in his turn as Barry, a fat slob with the sexual prowess of a gnat.
Some of the most painful scenes of the film are of Barry pitifully attempting to raise a flicker of interest from his unimpressed wife (Amy Brenneman). One snapshot of Eric and Mary making love is particularly awful you'd see more motion and animation at a Scrabble tournament, which, judging from the look on Mary's face, would be an exciting change in locale.
A character's suffering in Your Friends and Neighbors is directly correlated to the extent of his or her sensitivity. Cary, portrayed frighteningly well by Jason Patric (Sleepers), has no such problem. Cary is so singularly vain and mean-spirited he almost turns into a sociopathic caricature on the screen.
Through Cary's wretchedness, Labute inverts the "you get what you give" principle, arguing greed and vanity consistently win out over good intentions. Unfortunately, he makes a pretty strong case.
The major flaw of Your Friends and Neighbors is the characters are too detached. The fact the three males in this movie are supposed to be best friends is difficult to conceive. They converse in lifeless dialogue more typical of strangers asking for directions. After two hours of utterly empty conversation, you start to wonder why they even bother hanging out together at all.
But if the dialogue of the film lags at times, Labute can be forgiven. Unrelentingly witty and perceptive, Your Friends and Neighbors hits hard where, apparently, it hurts most between the sheets.
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