[box cover]

Your Friends and Neighbors

Polygram Home Video

Starring Amy Brenneman, Aaron Eckhart, Catherine Keener,
Nastassja Kinski, Jason Patric, and Ben Stiller

Written and directed by Neil LaBute

Back to Review Index

Back to Quick Reviews

Everybody has a friend who — almost deliberately, it seems — makes a mess of their own life. They lie, they cheat, they misbehave, or they live in denial, and they either seem bewildered by the catastrophic results of their actions or stoically take them in stride, regarding themselves as another victim of the cruel and unfair circumstances of life.

In his second film, Your Friends and Neighbors, writer-director Neil LaBute presumes to tell such generic stories about such generic people. His characters don't have names, and the city in which they live feels like New York, but isn't. These people could be anybody, living anywhere. But more specifically, they could be you and your friends, living right in your neighborhood.

In LaBute's microcosm of us, narcissism is rampant. Husbands suffer erectile indifference with frigid wives, friends prey on friends' spouses, silence is preferred to communication, and common decency dictates emotionally violent revenge.

The actors in LaBute's scathing moral tale are superb. Aaron Eckhart, so cruel and assured in LaBute's debut, In the Company of Men, is a helpless, hapless married shmoe. As his wife, Amy Brenneman is subtle and repressed as she passively destroys their marriage. Ben Stiller plays a manipulative professor who offers endless analysis of everything — save for his own glee in seducing Brenneman, his best friend's wife. Stiller's live-in girlfriend, portrayed by the excellent Catherine Keener, does not suffer fools gladly, and senses foolishness in any attempt to engage in emotional conversation.

The boldest character in Your Friends and Neighbors, however, is played by Jason Patric. While those around him hem and haw over moral decisions, discard their conscience when it threatens inconvenience, or deny through silence the emptiness of their relationships, Patric's character alone lives by a strong, albeit deranged, moral code. That this code — he calls it "common decency" — requires women to be confronted with calculated emotional and sexual terrorism is shocking indictment of society, as it's the only ethical system on display.

LaBute has been heavily criticized as amoral and misogynistic, but this betrays a shallowness amongst puritan critics. There is a strong moral barometer at work here, swinging wildly opposite that of Patric's character. Although his dialog is rife with creative profanity, and his characters shamelessly abuse each other in the foulest of manners, LaBute is a Mormon, and that adds an extra touch of audacity and bravery to his dark vision of moral decay. But that does not excuse it from getting too dark.

Your Friends and Neighbors is caustically funny, shocking, and features moments of ringing truth. Unfortunately, LaBute approaches his acutely observed material like a pitying eavesdropper. It seems he has no affection for these people, other than his superior amusement at their disgustingness. LaBute's style is almost an unholy perfect mesh of Woody Allen's milieu, David Mamet's attitude, and Todd Solondz' subject matter. While it compares favorably to Allen's wit and Mamet's acerbic mode of discourse, LaBute lacks Solondz' affecting empathy for the struggling.

LaBute also zealously overstates his case. While there are definite universal traits in each of his characters, the extent of their horribleness to each other is thankfully not yet the norm. Also, his final scene is a surprise, but hardly a believable one — even if "common decency requires it."

Shortcomings aside, Your Friends and Neighbors is still a rich experience, with numerous wonderful moments, lines, and scenes, demonstrating that when the whole falls short, the sum of several great parts can still be extremely gratifying.

This dual-layer disc features 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and pan-and-scan on the same side, and both 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0 Dolby Surround. Includes a feature-length commentary track by LaBute and producer Steve Golin, textual supplements, trailer. Keep case.

— Gregory P. Dorr

Get it at Reel.com

Back to Review Index

Back to Quick Reviews

Back to Main Page

© 1999, The DVD Journal