Your Friends & Neighbors (1998)

*. At the end of Neil LaBute’s first film a man is shouting at a woman but she (and we) can’t hear anything because she’s deaf and the soundtrack has gone blank. At the beginning of Your Friends & Neighbors, LaBute’s next movie, this is reversed: we hear a man’s voice talking (we think) to a woman but we can’t see anything because there’s just a black screen.
*. As it turns out, the dirty talk we’re hearing is a man talking to himself. This nicely introduces one of the themes that dominates Your Friends & Neighbours: verbose isolation.
*. We’re used to this going the other way. A strong relationship, the cliché goes, is built on good communication. And on balance I think that’s true. But LaBute puts forward a contrary position. People, especially people in relationships, shouldn’t talk so much, and they should probably avoid being too truthful. Openness and communication really aren’t in anyone’s best interest.
*. And this isn’t just the usual case of men not understanding women, and vice versa. LaBute’s reputation as a misogynist is overblown. His male characters are his most loathsome, as Cary (Jason Patric) demonstrates for us here. But even Terri and Cherri (Catherine Keener and Nastassja Kinski) fall into a silence that, while unhappy, is possibly sustaining. I like the touch of Terri’s mask at the end. She’s blocked out everything.
*. LaBute began as a playwright, something you’d know just a few minutes into Your Friends & Neighbours. It has that sort of shape and talkiness to it. The same sets are returned to again and again and none of the characters seem to do any kind of work (the two female leads are both writers . . . of something). What people do when they get together is have scenes.
*. A sort of Carnal Knowledge 2.0, except I doubt it will age as well. Or perhaps, now that it’s just over twenty years old, we can say that it hasn’t aged as well. I still find something interesting in Carnal Knowledge while much of this movie seems entirely outside my experience and understanding.
*. But I don’t know if it’s the talk itself that has dated as much as the tone. Take Ben Stiller playing Jerry (all the names rhyme, but they’re never used in the film itself so that’s just a joke for the end credits). This was before Stiller was well known as a comic and watching the movie today you expect him to start playing it up. But even without hindsight, and despite being marketed as a comedy, it feels strange that there’s nothing very funny going on, even when Jerry gets dressed up in Restoration fashion.
*. It’s a very quiet movie. I had to turn the volume up just to realize that people were talking . . .  and I was watching with subtitles! The only character who loses his shit and starts to yell is Patric’s Cary, and he’s a psychopath. When Jerry asks Terri to “please be quiet” in the restaurant she’s hardly raised her voice.
*. It’s a hard movie to enjoy, being about a bunch of unlikeable people engaging in various forms of self-destructive behaviour. In so far as there is a message it may be that nice guys finish last. Poor Barry (Aaron Eckhart) is left masturbating, unsuccessfully, after his wife leaves him for Cary. Though in this she is the even bigger loser. Terri is the only character I found all that interesting, though not sympathetic.
*. Well, no one said you have to like the characters in a movie. But Your Friends & Neighbors, being so script-driven, needed to be livelier in this department, and/or go somewhere unexpected. I didn’t think it was either, and since it’s too long for a sketch it ends up as a big shrug.

3 thoughts on “Your Friends & Neighbors (1998)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    LaBute was a big deal at this point, and I remember enjoying this at the time. But post Wicker Man and Death at a Funeral, I just don’t care about this guy any more, he seems to have run out of any creative gas…

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      Oh man, I’d forgotten he’d done The Wicker Man.

      Yeah, LaBute’s window was kind of narrow. I sort of liked In the Company of Men (in so far as you can you “liked” that movie), but this one did nothing for me.

      Reply

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