Thursday, August 2, 2012

Your Friends and Neighbors (1998)

When friends and I have discussions on the most depressing and most disturbing movies of all time (this topic comes up a lot actually) I always bring up Your Friends and Neighbors (1998). It's a black comedy written and directed by Neil LaBute. If you are familiar with any of his other films, you will already know that they are not easy to watch. But if you can get through them, they are very rewarding in their own little way. 

I'm not going to summarize everything that happens leading up to the climax. That would be pointless and take away some of the excitement. What I will tell you is that this is a film with many couples. These couples have friends who are other couples. All of the people in these couples are confused and lonely, some are angry and most of them are downright despicable. Oh and their names are Mary, Barry, Terri, Cheri, Carry and Jerry. Perhaps these couples are mismatched. Perhaps there is no one for these people. Perhaps they realize this. 

Early in the film, Jerry (played by Ben Stiller) is teaching an acting class. While discussing a scene in The Country Wife by William Wycherley, he makes the point to his students that "It's always about f*cking." LaBute seems to agree because we soon realize that this is going to be a major theme in Your Friends and Neighbors as well. 

Jerry's wife (played by Catherine Keener) says to Cheri in another early scene that love is a disease. Cheri replies that it's curable. Then they start to kiss and we get the feeling that they've been here before. 

There is more cheating and infidelity in this film. Characters make decisions where you can see the mistakes being made in slow motion and you are left feeling helpless. They say things out loud and to each other without saying them quietly to themselves first and then immediately realize that what they said was stupid.  

So why would you want to see this movie? Did I mention that it's a comedy? The pitch blackest of the darkest underbelly of the most jaded and hard to reach funny bone. But yes, it's funny. It's funny because one of these characters is cheating on his wife with himself. I also found it funny that Ben Stiller physically resembles Neil LaBute in this movie. It's funny because of the ridiculous amount of confidence a certain doctor has. He also takes being a jerk to a whole new level and that's a lot less funny.

The communication and sometimes lack thereof is where the true brilliance of this film lies. LaBute's films are more like plays and rely heavily on dialogue. Ever actor is perfectly cast and delivers each line exactly the way these characters should. Toward the end, Cheri says to Jerry, "Because I don't say stupid things like that to people." Jerry listens, stunned,  while looking through a painting. He snaps back to reality and realizes that it's crooked. 

Do these characters actually exist? Almost certainly, but these certainly aren't any of my friends or neighbors...well maybe they're neighbors. And back to that reward I mentioned earlier. Perhaps the reward of a Neil LaBute film is knowing that you are nothing like his characters. 

"It's not funny." says Jerry, to which Terri replies, "Yes it is." 

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