Revulsion may be the initial response to "Your Friends and Neighbors," an unsettling odyssey through the joyless lives and dysfunctional relationships of six young professionals in a big city. But stick around long enough and voyeuristic pleasure takes over, as this festival of human cruelty revels in adroitly delivered black humor drawn from domestic situations that are characterized by a ring of authenticity.
Ben Stiller is Jerry, a leering drama professor whose bisexual live-in girlfriend Terri (Catherine Keener) accuses him of talking too much during sex. Aaron Eckhart is Barry, a dolt who prefers masturbation to lovemaking with his pretty, distracted wife, Mary (Amy Brenneman).
The small circle of friends, lovers and enemies includes Jason Patric as Cary, a predatory doctor with a heart of stone, and Nastassja Kinski as Cheri, a beautiful, insecure art-gallery assistant. The action hinges on the cruelties these educated, nominally sensitive metropolis dwellers heap on one another in their headlong rush to meet their own psychological and sexual needs.
Writer-director Neil LaBute covered some of this same territory with his stunningly frank and brutal debut, "In the Company of Men." And like that previous film, here his central couples seem to thrive on the pain they are able to inflict at will. A neighborhood supermarket, where nearly all of the characters wind up at one point or another, is the scene of Barry's misguided marital counseling of his wife. "We need to treat each other as meat," he says.
Sparks begin flying and more emotional damage gets under way as Jerry seduces Mary, Terri hooks up with Cheri, Cary remains on the prowl and poor Barry finds relief with a phone-sex operator. None of these new relationships offer much improvement over the old ones.
These so-called friends never address each other by their first names and don't establish anything resembling loyalty. Their seductions have become routine. Not that one is required, but maybe that ultimate joylessness is the moral to the amorality of the behavior demonstrated in "Your Friends and Neighbors." Call it karma, call it Biblical reaping what you sow, call it by another name, but these folks seem to have been given exactly what they deserve.