(director/writer/editor: Neil LaBute; cinematographer: Nancy Schreiber; cast: Aaron Eckhart (Barry), Amy Brenneman (Amy), Ben Stiller (Jerry), Catherine Keener (Terri), Jason Patric (Cary), Nastassja Kinski (Cheri); Runtime: 100; Gramercy Pictures; 1998)

“I wouldn’t recommend it as a date movie!”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

LaBute’s film is tough to watch — it seems to be more suitable for the stage, and it is not written for wide audience appeal. It is a story of the “me only” generation, who inhabit a stylishly fashionable world. The characters are self-absorbed, greedy, and uncaring. They are consumed by sex, which is mainly used to fuel their power trips. The dialogue is trivial; they talk about sex every chance they get — whether exercising, eating in a trendy restaurant, or in bed. These ’90s characters vaguely remind me of the protagonists in earlier films involving the sexual revolution, such as Bob,Carol, Ted, and Aliceand Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, though these characters are not as amusing or witty. Their coldness is disturbing and the framed shots and dialogue of the film is so successful in capturing this mood, that the film becomes wearisome and is not a particularly appetizing one. I wouldn’t recommend it as a date movie!

Aaron is the financially successful corporate man who is sexually unsatisfied by his attractive wife (Amy). He says masturbation is his best form of sex. Amy is cast as the sexual object, who attracts all of Aaron’s friends, as she tries to work out her sexual problems. Ben is the thespian/professor living with his girlfriend, the dykish Catherine, who only enjoys sex when there is no talking and is only interested in her own self-gratification. Ben is the one who has lost track of his integrity, and has become pompous and untrustworthy.

Kinski is the museum worker who becomes Catherine’s lover. Her character is undeveloped. She meets all the characters in the story through her job in the museum, and might even be considered the “nice one” in this film; but, I think that is a bit of a stretch. No one is really nice in this film.

The couples suffer from their hang-ups, unable to have good relationships and be satisfied with themselves. For one, sex is a macho thing and a means of acting out his proficiency in sexual techniques by having many women. For another, sex is a means of finding self-worth.

It is tough to critique this film mainly because it is not meant to be merely entertaining as much as its aim is to be an in-your-face drama. Nevertheless, it must be commended for its rawness and honesty to subject matter. Therefore, viewer beware, what you see is not often pleasant, and what it means to you depends on whether or not you find that this bitter portrayal of relationships is one you agree with or not.

It might be of interest to note that LaBute is, of all things, a Mormon…uhmmmm!