Aaron Eckhart, Ben Stiller and Jason Patric in Your Friends & Neighbors

Your Friends and Neighbors

 

 

Like writer/director LaBute’s In The Company of Men, his 1997 debut, Your Friends and Neighbors deals with a theme that’s current in cinema – that all men are rubbish. LaBute focuses on three self-obsessed friends, travelling further into their psyches as the film progresses. And the further he travels, the shallower the trio appear. Contemporary gents, LaBute appears to be saying, have benefited enormously from the liberalising cultural shift of the 1960s, but these days instead of being high, they’re more high and dry.

For some people this film might be a bit preachy, a bit speechy, and it’s true that LaBute’s origins as a writer for the stage seem fairly evident. Perhaps the way for me to sell it is to describe it as a dyspeptic Woody Allen drama, except LaBute is prepared to venture beyond the bedroom door (a territory Allen never penetrates, if that’s the word, unless armed with an arsenal of jokes). Aaron Eckhart, Ben Stiller and Jason Patric (after Speed 2 this is revelatory stuff) are the three dudes, all dressed properly, in good jobs, used to the best. Amy Brenneman and Catherine Keener play Eckhart and Stiller’s other (definitely better) halves, with Patric and Nastassja Kinski as a pair of singletons spreading a little nastiness wherever they lay their libidinous heads.

LaBute has been out there, in the gyms and workplace eateries, the coffee bars and metros, and he’s noticed how bloody selfish people, especially men, seem to have become. And these are the winners in life! A great film for lovers of dark comedy in the Mamet style. Just don’t expect to be whistling once it’s over.

© Steve Morrissey 1999

 

Your Friends & Neighbors – at Amazon

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Your Friends and Neighbors”

  1. This is basically the filmed dissatisfaction of upper-class yuppie life. These are people who have everything but seem to live in a swamp of self loathing and hateful arrogance and selfishness. Their tart, affective interplay is like watching a game of mumbletypeg, but with words. These are the kind of people you would not want to live next door to, but these are the people who usually seem to win in our society, sad as that is to ponder.

    Jason Patric plays the single most evil person in movie history. His ‘shower scene’ is sick, twisted, but oddly humorous. You hate yourself for laughing, which is the point. In that way you understand how these people are born. They are us.

    This is arrogant mall culture, the kind of American decadence the Soviets warned us about. At least they were right about that.

    The film is about how creeps become dissatisfied at their own creepiness. Great dialog, the ending makes complete, yet sad, sense. Our world is mad, and we need to change it, before it eats us whole.

  2. Good movies do not have to be about pleasant subjects, many excellent films are about depressing subjects or have sad endings. Neil Labute’s first two movies are definitely not happy, and delve deeply into the dark side of modern human existence. They both address the same issue, human dysfunction and evil amidst the bounty of white collar America. In "Your Friends and Neighbors", Labute has us eavesdrop on two Yuppie couples and their friends. For various reasons (mostly of a sexual nature), the couplings are disintegrating, and we’re treated to listening in on the action; in bedrooms, in restaurants, and in steam rooms. Labute writes excellent dialogue and the movie is well acted. Unfortunately, "Your Friends and Neighbors" lacks the dramatic punch of his first film. We just watch as the characters screw up their lives, and the lives of their supposed friends and loved-ones. Afterwards you just want to take a shower. A toss-up to grade; if it sounds interesting rent it.

  3. YOUR FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS / (1998) ***1/2 (out of four)

    "Your Friends & Neighbors" is not really a film about sex, although every single scene, in some form or another, depicts its characters’ obsessions with sexuality. The sex is not the subject of the film, but rather a medium for the characters to display various forms of behavior. Through eight very different characters, we realize the differences of behaviors, personalities, attitudes, and various degrees of selfishness. Although wealthy and classy, none of the characters are role model citizens. This is a tricky film to watch, never particularly entertaining, but often curiously involving. The sexual content and strong language will turn many audiences off, but this movie does have a solid understanding of itself, and I honor its art.

    Neil Lebute is clearly more interested in the characters’ sex lives than in a clear, concise story. Ben Stiller and Catherine Keener play partners. They have good friends, another couple played by Amy Brenneman and Aaron Eckhart. Stiller and Brenneman have an affair. Keener has issues with her partner’s verbal expressions during sex-she finds a mate in a female artist’s assistant played by Nastassja Kinski. Eckhart is his own favorite sexual partner. Jason Patrick plays a cruel, arrogant womanizer who forces his will on others. Eventually, the characters’ selfishness destroys their own relationships. We become infatuated with these circumstances.

    Many of the scenes contain a strange, subtle power of intrigue. One of my selection of scenes takes place in an art gallery, where the various characters chat with Nastassja Kinski’s character. They have the same conversations, but the scenes end differently. Another fantastic scene is where the three men relax in a steam room and discuss their favorite sexual encounters. Jason Patrick’s explanation packs a powerful, disturbing punch. Although these scenes do not necessarily construct a story, that’s not a problem. The focus here is the vivid dialogue, the aggressive behavior, and the keen direction. This isn’t a movie about a story. It’s a movie about behavior.

    The characters talk about sex constantly-whether it’s in the supermarket, the basketball court, in bed, an art gallery, public restaurants, gym showers, their homes, business places, steam rooms, and more. The movie lacks passion to share with the audience, but we can tell Lebute is passionate about writing these characters. There is constantly an uneasy tension between most of them; they form no chemistry or charisma. He isolates them in their own world so that we can watch the interaction, not the romance.

    "Your Friends & Neighbors" initially received an NC-17 rating by the MPAA. It contains very little nudity, no violence, and only a few scenes of actual sex. It received an R on appeal, but perhaps we should examine the association’s motives for the higher rating. The discussions of sex in this movie are more vivid, more disturbing, more vivid than any actual act of sex. In a way, the MPAA honored the movie’s power. They proved that Neil Lebute’s social drama is certainly not for all audiences, and it’s not really a great movie, but we should strongly respect the angle and courage.

  4. Jerry lives with Terri but Terri is irritated by everything he does especially the way he talks during sex and needs to analyse everything. They are friends with Barry and Mary who have sexual problems as Mary is rarely roused for sex. Jerry makes a move to meet up with Mary to have sex behind Barry’s back. Meanwhile Cheri works at an art gallery and picks up people there and Jerry and Barry’s friend Cary lives his sex life devoid of any care or consideration for anyone else.

    I have previously seen In the Company Of Men so I was prepared for the sort of view point the director seems to take regarding the nature of men and women but even then, this is still a pretty depressing look at relationships. Our characters are barely even given names, certainly no last names, and they are rarely used when you listen. More than that the names are pretty typical – the sort of names you might make up if you were put on the spot, like John Smith. The point being that these characters are not supposed to be fictional but more `everyman’ characters. However is this what everyone is like? – does everyone have major relationship issues and try to have affairs with their best friends etc? Do people really have stories of male rape as their best sexual experience? I doubt it – this is a real condensing of the whole human experience into a handful of characters.

    It works quite well because it is very frank and this kept my interest. Not shocking but I did want to keep watching because the dialogue was good. Sadly I could have cared less about the actual lives before me. As a plot I didn’t get involved partly because it was so fake feeling – it was obvious from day 1 that LaBute was not going to give us the luxury of even one mildly messed up relationship, no – it was obvious that everything that could fail would. The dialogue does save the film as it is well written and darkly funny, however it just wasn’t enough of a story – instead it was rather smugly self aware.

    The cast do well with the dialogue and the film is staged more like a play than a roaming film, with mostly static interior shots used. Stiller is good but doesn’t excel himself. Eckhart shows how good an actor he is by playing a character so the opposite of his character in LaBute’s previous film and playing it well. Patric steals the show but his character is the least developed. He is the funny one and is like Eckhart’s character in `In the Company Of Men’ in that he is selfish and cruel to women. However his character seems to be LaBute’s ideal in this piece as he is the only one who seems to get what he wants – is this the moral of the film? The female characters are weaker as you’d expect. Brenneman cuts a pathetic character and simply mops around a lot. Kinski is given little to do although Keener has a stronger part to play.

    Overall I enjoyed this because it was full of good dialogue that keeps you listening because of how very frank it is. However that doesn’t mean that the story or film is involving and it does feel a little distant and not based in any life I’ve ever lived. A bit too cruel, harsh and dark but it just about gets by on those credentials – but the music of Metallica played on violin is worth watching the credits for!

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