Neighbors [1981]

In the age of ever-increasing crassness on screen (see the Farrelly brothers' comedies), there are some filmmakers who can make serious commentary instead of just throwaway gags. Neil LaBute's second feature is a corkscrew comedy of savage, bitter people who can't find happiness in many a thing, let alone sex. The film is not as tight or commanding as his first feature, the black-hearted In the Company of Men, but he gives six nameless characters six juicy parts with plenty to talk about. The emotional punch is devastating for those trying to find love and happiness on celluloid. One wife and husband (Amy Brenneman, Men's Aaron Eckhart) are nice people, living in a dream home, who can't connect sexually. Drama teacher Ben Stiller and live-in girlfriend Catherine Keener may just work out if, well, he didn't talk all the time. Stiller confesses his love for best friend Eckhart's wife; Keener starts an affair with artist assistant Nastassja Kinski. Then there's Jason Patric (who also produced) as a calculating, misogynistic doctor who has not had a peer on film or theater since David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago (which took a different film form as About Last Night...). Manipulative and forward, he's the white-hot core to LaBute's fire and has the monologue of the year to boot. LaBute's callous films aren't for everybody, but there is an art and clear-headedness to his work that most American independent filmmakers can't create on screen. Note: the six characters speak the only lines in the film, although through careful editing it never seems this way. --Doug Thomas

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