Your Friends and Neighbors - * * *

Your Friends and Neighbors

Those familiar with Neil LaBute’s directoral debut, In the Company of Men, know that he knows how to tap the baser instincts of mankind. His second film, Your Friends and Neighbors, continues in the same spirit, showing the depths of mental and sexual cruelty of which both men and women are capable.

The film focuses on three men and three women, who, while not alone in their world, are the only ones with speaking roles in the film. There’s one married couple, one “together” couple, and two singles.

The married couple are Barry and Mary (Aaron Eckhart and Amy Brenneman), who, behind a happy facade, are having marital troubles. Mary simply wants something different… and that may mean Barry’s best friend Jerry (Ben Stiller), who’s having relationship problems of his own, with his girlfriend Terri (Catherine Keener).

Now, Terri is unsatisfied in her relationship with Jerry, and in fact seems to get more enjoyment out of her new friendship with an artist’s assistant named Cheri (Nastassja Kinski). Meanwhile, the single womanizer Cary (Jason Patric) is on the prowl…and may just be true evil personified.

None of the characters have names in the film (until the end credits, where the rhyming nominations seem a further exercise in anonymity). This serves to put a more personal spin on the whole movie…after all, they are “Your” Friends and Neighbors.

But they’re not people you’d really like to get that close to. Seemingly normal on the outside, each and every one is a flawed specimen of humanity. Or are they the status quo? (Shudder.) In either case, you’re simultaneously repulsed yet riveted to the screen.

Jason Patric and Catherine Keener are the standouts in a talented cast, and also the creepiest of the bunch. Of the six, only Nastassja Kinski’s character is never fully explored…and she actually turns out to be the nicest one here. Perhaps LaBute has problems writing for normal people.

Your Friends and Neighbors is never as sharp as his In the Company of Men, but it comes close, and is a more ambitious undertaking. LaBute’s sophomore slump here is only slight.

This is not a date movie. It is fascinating to watch, but does little to enhance a harmonious relationship. In fact, it is the type of movie that makes you want to shun any and all human contact whatsoever.

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