When the independent feature IN THE COMPANY OF MEN opened,
it did so to critical praise, and the film sparked numerous debates
centered on its depiction of venal businessmen and their scheme to
woo and dump and unsuspecting female. Writer-director Neil LaBute
showed great promise with that first feature and it comes as no
surprise that his second feature was another knockout. Undoubtedly,
YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS also will spark debates over its
characters and the way their lives unfurl. Whereas LaBute confined
himself to two men and one woman in his first film, here he expands
the canvas to include three men and three women.

From its opening scenes, LaBute clearly establishes what the subject
will be. The camera loving captures a handsome sweaty guy (Jason
Patric, who also produced) seemingly is in the throes of intercourse,
saying all the right things. The camera pulls back to reveal he is—
alone. It has merely been a practice session and he is taping his best
come-on lines for future use. Cut to a scene from a Restoration
comedy (probably Wycherly) being performed by an actor and an
actress. Suddenly, the actor (Ben Stiller) breaks the fourth wall and
addresses the audience—in this case a group of students, announcing
clearly that things haven't changed much in three hundred years. What
the characters depicted on this stage want is what everyone wants—
sex. The third scene is a overweight businessman (Aaron Eckhart)
eating lunch and chatting with a colleague. The question has been
posed, "With whom have you had the best sex?" The businessman,
praising his wife, avers, the best sex he ever was with himself. Only
he knows how to please himself. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to
the world of
YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS!

We then see these men interacting with the women in their lives. The
actor likes to talk during lovemaking which upsets his live-in girlfriend
(Catherine Keener) while the businessman becomes impotent with his
wife (Amy Brenneman) and can only achieve satisfaction in an
onanistic manner. Tellingly, the audience never sees the women in the
life of the stud, only his over-the-top reactions to their perceived
failings (one of his partners has her period during sex which stains his
sheets). Interestingly, none of the character's names are ever used in
the course of the film and LaBute jokingly gave them rhyming names
(Mary, Cary, Barry, etc.) in the credits. The plot moves forward when
the two couples interact after a dinner. Stiller makes a move on
Brenneman who clearly is intrigued. They plan a rendez-vous.
Meanwhile Keener goes to a gallery and meets an artist's assistant
(Nastassja Kinski) to whom she is attracted. As this couple separates
and engages in a search for a good lay which leads Stiller and
Brenneman to a hotel room where Stiller finds he can't perform under
pressure and Keener and Kinski to embark on an affair, other events
unfold. Patric and Eckhart often work out together and the one
occasion where they get together with Stiller leads to a steam room
chat about the best sex they've each had. Eckhart lies and says his
wife. Stiller demurs and Patric in an extraordinary scene delivers a
speech about the gang rape of a male classmate that is both poignant
and chilling. Stiller tells Eckhart the best he had was his wife, which
precipitates the couple's separation. By the end of the film, each has
found themselves in a situation that is no better than where they were
and in several cases, a worse spot. Whether they end up with
someone or not, they are alone.

LaBute has a strong ear for clever and biting dialogue and he has
masterfully cast this film. Each actor delivers a strong performance
with special kudos to Patric, Eckhart and Keener. Clearly playing off his
strong good looks, Patric delivers a tour de force as the selfish
physician who can be deliberately cruel; in addition to his shocking
steam room speech, he tells his friends how he once forged the results
of an HIV test for a woman who dumped him. Eckhart, the sleazy
protagonist of
IN THE COMPANY OF MEN, is barely recognizable as
the puppyish cuckold. Brenneman is fine as his unsatisfied wife who
cannot verbalize her displeasure while Stiller is appropriately pushy as
a guy on the make. Kinski's role is slightly underwritten although there
is an amusing recurring scenes wherein the major characters encounter
her at the gallery and engage in nearly the same conversation. She
has her moments with Keener when she displays her needy side.
Keener has never been better. A mainstay of the indie film world, this
actress has one of her best roles and she gets several of the best
lines as a serious, brittle career woman.

LaBute's skewed world view that is both pessimistic and yet ironic is
one that will divide audiences. Whether you accept what he has to say
or not, one thing is clear, you will have an opinion. Like his first movie
which sparked debates over how men and women relate, LaBute's
sophomore effort,
YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS raises similar
issues on a slightly grander scale. Maybe you might be pleased that
these men and women aren't your friends or neighbors, or maybe you'll
recognize someone you know (maybe even yourself).



                     
Rating:                   B+
                     
MPAA Rating:        R for graphic sexual dialogue,
                                                   strong sexuality & language
                     
Running time:      100 mins.
YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.