October 1998
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Movie review: Your Friends and Neighbors

by Jason Morrison

Ever start to feel relationships arenít all theyíre cracked up to be? Ever start to think people are mostly selfish, flawed creatures who just want to get you into bed? Well, have I got a movie for you.

Your Friends and Neighbors is a somewhat bitter view of the lives of six people, connected to each other by the bonds of friendship, marriage and love. The movie is a slightly-warped mirror held up to the reality of relationships in the 90ís-cheating, communication problems, desperation. Itís almost enough to drive you to a monastery.

Jerry (Ben Stiller) is a theater professor, intellectual, and generally pleasant seeming guy. When he approaches his friend Barryís (Aaron Eckhart) wife Mary (Amy Brenneman) about getting together some time, she accepts, hoping for more than the obviously disappointing performance of her husband. Meanwhile, Jerryís gruff girlfriend Terri (Catherine Keener) seeks silent passion in the arms of Cheri (Nastassja Kinski) and Jerry and Barryís friend Cary (Jason Patric) doles out twisted advice, not even bothering to justify his cruelty.

Jerry and Maryís affair goes as planned but is unfruitful for both of them. Terri finds out, but pretends not to for a little while. Barry finds out straight from Jerry when he and Cary ask about Jerryís best sexual experience and Cary confronts Terri about her attitude with Jerry. Needless to say, everythingís a mess.

The film is meant more to be a commentary than a narrative-more and less obvious parallels permeate the movie, showing you just how similarly these very different characters act in the same situation and exactly how they differ. Much of the film takes place in the bedroom, where the charactersí essential flaws and incompatibilities are highlighted, and throughout the film only the six main characters are given any lines whatsoever. The film is about these specific relationships, so everything extraneous is left out of our view; the message here is inherent foibles and individual decisions are causing all the problems.

Stiller is good, as usual, as the self-assured actor and professor who stutters and gapes in conversation. His calls for better communication with Terri (and Mary, for that matter) are set off by his complete inability to finish a sentence or point once he begins. In Jerry we have a commentary against modern rationality; he is intelligent, educated, likable and yet flawed. He cheats on his girlfriend and betrays his best friend, worrying only about his inability to have things work out in the end.

In the beginning of the film Eckhartís Barry seems just as reprehensible as the rest. But as the film progresses we see him as not just an aging jock outwardly affecting a happiness that isnít truly there, but also the only one of the six who doesnít lie to or cheat on anyone. Heís the tragic figure in the end, because although he hasnít been able to help the situation any, he suffers mainly from what the others have done.

Brennemanís Mary is, like Jerry, the kind of character you donít expect to see cheating--in most movies she would be the victim or the heroine. Keener is good as the one-dimensionally cold, self-centered and cruel Terri, and Kinski, though she first appears as more of a plot device than a character, shows some range when she is forced to realize how much Terry truly loves her.

Last but not least, Patric is incredibly insidious as the downright evil Cary. He drop-kicks a model fetus; he sends a letter on hospital stationary telling a girlfriend she might have HIV; his best sexual experience was a rape. The rules, the whole idea of morals, do not apply to him. About the HIV letter: "Was it wrong? I donít know. It was funny, and [she] deserved it."

Your Friends and Neighbors has a lot going for it in its performers and boiled-down look at the way people can really hurt each other. Itís satirical, but not very funny. Luckily, few people are as able to ignore the consequences of their actions as these six. Unfortunately, all of us are like "Your Friends and Neighbors" in some ways.

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