Now I remember why I'm single…
Your Friends And Neighbors is from the same folks who did In The Company Of Men, which I previously reviewed. Given the excellence and controversial nature of that film, I was very much looking forward to checking out this one. And I was not disappointed, because their second effort is an incredibly well done piece of work that, believe it or not, goes even deeper into the weirdnesses that are love and life.
Filmed very quickly and for a small budget, this film has only six speaking parts and, like In The Company Of Men, is basically a play presented in movie form. It's almost all indoors, takes place in some indeterminate place and time, and deals purely with the interplay of relationships and emotions of a small group of people. And, though I harp on this too much, it is yet more solid proof that a great movie can be made for a small amount of money and in a short amount of time.
The main characters in this play are the married couple Mary and Barry, and their old friends Terri and Jerry who are living together. The names might sound a little silly, but in actual fact their names are never mentioned anywhere in the entire film anyway. You only see them in the credits, so it doesn't really matter. Mary is played by Amy Brenneman (Heat, "Judging Amy") and her husband Barry is played by Aaron Eckhart (In The Company Of Men, Molly). These two have settled into their lives, physically settled in fact. He's gained weight, wears whatever she says to wear, and they almost certainly drive a mini-van, though you never see them do so. They have basically no remaining sex life whatsoever, and he can pretty much only get satisfaction via masturbation, failing to rise to any other occasion. She is needy beyond belief and living in a 60-cycle hum sort of rut.
Their friends Jerry, played by Ben Stiller (Reality Bites, There's Something About Mary), and Terri, played by Catherine Keener (Living in Oblivion, Walking and Talking, The Real Blonde), are one of those couples that you can't imagine ever got together. He's a professor who teaches acting, loves Shakespeare, and can't stop analyzing their relationship in great detail. She's pretty much an ice queen who can't stand his talking, in bed most of all. They are coming apart at the seams, and their sex life is completely on the blink as well, consisting mostly of "grudge sex."
During a visit after a yearlong break, Jerry and Terri come over for dinner. As they are getting ready to leave, Jerry comes on to Mary, telling her that he has thought about her continuously for the last year and that he wants to see her. After a little resistance, Mary allows that she has thought about him as well and they arrange to meet. This meeting begins the spiraling crash of all of the relationships involved, with much loathsome and pathetic events along the way. Another player in the game is Cary, played by Jason Patric (Sleepers, Rush, The Lost Boys). Cary obviously has some sort of double reverse Oedipus Complex. He is extremely vindictive towards woman, a reptilian sort of predator who, in his own mind at least, is protecting manhood against the slings and arrows of female treachery. He is an old friend of Jerry and Barry's, and his character is one of the most interesting of all. He is cold and calculating to a fault. He does things like practice his sexual patter, record it, then review it later (while working out) to figure out how to make it more effective. In a strange way though, he is like an animal or reptile, in that emotion doesn't enter into the equation. He kills only for food so to speak.
I won't give away any more of the story or characters, since you'll want to experience the pain yourself. But I definitely want to say something about the overall subject matter. This film has some of the most painfully funny and embarrassing sexual relationships and situations I've ever seen on film. They are never overly explicit, just as uncomfortable and emotionally castrating as real life can be. Ben Stiller in particular is ever so good at the squirming weasel sort of character that gets into situations that actually make me squirm from the level of embarrassment.
The acting on this disc is superb. I'm sure it was an actor's dream, with lots of great situations, long takes, lots of dialogue, heavy subtext, i.e. plenty of room to stretch the acting legs. In particular Catherine Keener kills as the ice queen. Also, Amy Brenneman really impressed me. I'd only seen her before in Heat, but she really got to branch out a lot more here. Aaron Eckhart, who completely transformed his character and his body physically from his role in In The Company Of Men, also gives an excellent reserved performance. All of the performances for that matter are more about what's not said than what's said, well except for Jason Patric's character, who says exactly what's on his mind. They are standard, repressed, professional white people, full of stress, and either passive aggressives or co-dependents.
The anamorphic video is quite crisp and well done. As in In The Company Of Men, the set design is full of understated but saturated colors. It looked consistently good throughout as I remember. There is a 5.1 audio track but this film is a complete talky so it wouldn't have been missed much if not there. But it was well recorded and the dialogue was easy to understand.
The only extra of note is a commentary track, but it's a quite good one. It features the writer/director Neil LaBute, and the producer. Actually, Jason Patric also co-produced the film as well as acting in it. Only a couple times do they veer away from the action onto tangential topics. For the most part, they do an excellent job of shedding enlightenment on the subject.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I can't say much bad about this one. Maybe it wasn't far enough of a jump from the writer and director's previous work, but it definitely was not a retread. If you hated In The Company Of Men, this one is of much the same character, though the story line is much more of a balanced story in terms of man vs. woman. Everyone gets their licks in in this one.
Personally, I loved this film. What can I say, I like watching movies that prove that all those people I see together are secretly living in a hellish nightmare of ennui and sexual betrayal. This makes it much easier to believe that I'm really making the right decision by being alone. If you enjoy challenging films that rub your face in the danger and degradation inherent in opening up to others, in a darkly funny way, then you have to see it. It's more approachable than In The Company Of Men and both women and men will like it equally I think. I wouldn't recommend it for those couples about to go ballistic or experiencing erectile disfunction, since it will probably be the last film you ever see together. But if you are secure in your insecurities, it would be a great date movie for couples into more cerebral drama/comedy material.
Definitely acquitted, and invited over to meet my daughter. Okay, I don't have a daughter yet, but you know what I mean. These characters are painfully real, and we need more of this kind of reality, in my opinion.
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