21 06 2011

Your Friends & Neighbors

Writer/director Neil LaBute’s uncompromising, disturbing, and utterly hilarious black comedy about adult relationships is the rare American film that actually has a unique voice. LaBute’s lacerating 1997 debut In The Company of Men came out of nowhere and became a surprise indie hit, but his 1998 follow-up is even more ambitious, detailing the miserable lives of a six self-absorbed upper-class characters living in an unnamed city. The entire film is shot with interiors and written like a stage play about cruel sexual dysfunction and backstabbing. While the concept of couples running around cheating on each other while living out callous existences sounds like a wallow in despair, no one has bothered to tell LaBute, who treats the entire thing like a savage comedy of manners. Featuring stellar performances from Catherine Keener, Jason Patric, Ben Stiller, Amy Brenneman and Aaron Eckhart, the film becomes an unflinching depiction of the way people wield sex as an object of power. Accused by many of misanthropy, LaBute is instead interested in tearing down preconceptions of gender and common decency. He doesn’t like these characters necessarily, but he seems rather amused at their arrogance and cruelty. A scene where Patric’s gynecologist delivers a horrifically frank monologue at the local gym, for example, is worth the price of admission alone, and Patric (channeling a slimy Tom Cruise kind of charisma) makes LaBute’s searing dialogue come alive. Your Friends & Neighbors won’t be for everyone, but it nonetheless stands as a fearless piece of work.


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