Your Friends And Neighbors, writer-director Neil LaBute's follow-up to last year's In The Company Of Men, is a savagely funny black comedy about the couplings and uncouplings of a group of self-obsessed, sexually dysfunctional upper-middle-class professionals. The group includes an unhappily married couple (Amy Brenneman and Aaron Eckhart), an unmarried couple who stay together largely because it would be a hassle to break up (Ben Stiller and Catherine Keener), Keener's lesbian lover (Nastassja Kinski), and Eckhart's best friend, a demonic hedonist (Jason Patric). Like In The Company Of Men, Your Friends And Neighbors works on several levels: as a black comedy about bourgeois hypocrisy, as a critique of the dehumanizing aspects of modern-day capitalism, and as a drama about alienated people coming apart at the seams. As a black comedy, it's flawless, a brilliantly written and acted comedy of manners that's brutal and uncompromising, yet full of fully realized characters who, while not particularly sympathetic, are still painfully, recognizably human. LaBute got his start in theater, and while his debut film's staginess could be attributed to its low budget, Your Friends And Neighbors uses it to create a claustrophobic intensity. LaBute doesn't seem satisfied merely to show the audience the emptiness of these characters' sordid lives; he seems intent on rubbing the audience's faces in the emptiness and nihilism of modern-day life. But that staginess also works against it. Its formalism gets oppressive after a while, and Patric's character in particular, while brilliantly written, at times feels like the sort of flamboyantly theatrical creature designed to shock and outrage even the most jaded audience member. But while Your Friends And Neighbors is flawed, it's still one of the best films of the year, a bleakly funny psychological drama that's all but impossible to forget.
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