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NewCityNet Bad Sex

Naughty neighbors are people too

By Ray Pride

AUGUST 24, 1998: 

Producer Jason Patric defends his naughty neighbors

Not that anyone would be asked under oath about their sexual lives, but...

Neil LaBute's follow-up to "In the Company of Men" is a story about all the pain that's paved the road to hell (along with good intentions). It's a distilled comic drama about missed connections and the very contemporary inability to connect, through words, gestures, hopes. The unromantic romantic lives of six characters in an unspecified city are hashed out in exquisitely excruciating detail, and they're splendidly acted by Jason Patric, Amy Brenneman, Ben Stiller, Catherine Keener, Nastassja Kinski and Aaron Eckhart, each actor making a connection to LaBute's terse text that sears the heart. The actors' tactile choices only humanize the generalizations of the script.

The form of the film suits its ambiguity, trimmed to its essence, shot entirely with interiors in widescreen and with very little music (mostly bursts of Metallica performed by a string quartet). While each characterŠno names are ever spokenŠperforms a dance of self-justification, the one most people will talk about is played by Jason Patric. His character says and does things that go beyond the pale of most social boundaries, yet insists "You would have done the same thing... Common decency would demand it."

Originally, Patric had intended only to produce the $4.3 million film, but was drawn to the dark characters and the wickedly funny paces LaBute puts them through. "My whole idea was to help young filmmakers. When I saw 'Company of Men,' I wanted to make this guy's second movie and protect it. Neil's first movie, in essence, was a home movie. They did whatever they could do. The second movie is usually more important than the first. I wanted to use whatever power I have and have people to come and do what they do. Then he wanted me to play a role," he says with a smile.

Patric sees his character as more than a simple bad guy. "I think that's too simplistic," the soft-spoken actor says with firmness. "Was Ralph Fiennes in 'Schindler's List' a rat bastard? I think it would be easier for people if [my character] was wearing a swastika. This character is far too complex and too well-written to just be a jerk, an asshole, a rat bastard. He's the only character in the movie who never lies. He's the only one who says things exactly the way he feels. There's actually a rationale for every piece of his behavior. Since we live a life of complete rationalization, I think it's a little chilling because his goes to an extreme." Patric cites a scene where his character rages at one of his lovers. "Even in that scene where he pours out the tirade to the girl that's had her period in his bed, in his mind she was on her period and she knew that and she came to him and bled all over his very expensive sheets."

Is that behavior misogynist? "Maybe," the 32-year-old actor says after a beat. "But I don't think he's doing it because she's a woman. Misogyny is a certain hatred towards woman. We're not yelling at her because she was a bad lay. And I'm not defending him, by the way, I'm talking about a certain pathology that exists in something like that. I think that's much more interesting and chilling, to see the working behind twisted logic. That's much scarier than the idea of bad and bad things that are done. With a character like this, you get to a certain point that there's a logic attached to it that makes you look at yourself."

One compelling aspect of "Your Friends and Neighbors" is how the almost generic character of the bad choices made by everyone in the story could have been made by any audience member at some point. "All too true," Patric murmurs. "I certainly felt that reading it. I saw his movie before it came out. We were looking for young filmmakers. We flew him out, met him, asked him if he had any more material. So I read this. And you would absolutely attach to yourself to one of these characters, or know someone who's been in a situation like that. You can only play yourself or parts of yourself, and I've learned that through the years. I've felt good about that in parts that you could attribute certain heroic traits to, kind, passionate ones. But, y'know, I've been on the freeway and I've wanted to shoot someone. I've had lovers I've wanted to strangle, but I've never put a finger on them. You have those feelings and those emotions, so you sequence them in a way to play the person."

Patric is also firm about the everyday quality of the nightmare situations these characters concoct for themselves. "A lot of people have said that it's cynicism, these are bad people. It's not that. They're all trying to make what in their mind they think are the good and right choices."

The comedy, he thinks, is a way of getting an audience to examine how we make these choices. "Comedies are funny, but to me it's much more interesting to see real humor come out of uncompromised situations. A laugh is a reflexive response, you can't help it, it's like a hiccup, and when you take in that breath, you're taking in the venom you've just watched. You're involved in it; you can't help it. You have to ask yourself, am I yearning for that, do I want that, am I part of that?"

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