(Canada, 100 min.)
Written and directed by Jacob Tierney
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, Scott Speedman, Anne-Marie Cadieux, Gary Farmer, Pat Kiely.
Add this one to the body count of 2011 duds, for Good Neighbours is an utter misfire. A real disappointment considering the promise shown by writer/director Jacob Tierney in last year’s The Trotsky, this new feature is a sloppy, poorly executed circus. Good Neighbours is presumably a hybrid thriller-comedy, but the generic mixing backfires disastrously and the film never really delivers any laughs, except for the odd chuckle induced by the laughably bad carnage of the murder plot.
The farce begins one curiously snowy October morning when Victor (Jay Baruchel) moves into a trendy apartment in the Montreal neighbourhood of Notre-Dame de Grâce. In his building, Victor meets an odd couple of neighbours: the athletic but wheelchair bound Spencer (Scott Speedman) and the attractive but standoffish Louise (Emily Hampshire). Both Spencer and Louise are too distracted to offer their new neighbour a warm welcome, since they are both too enrapt by the news that a serial killer is raping and murdering women in downtown Montreal. Everyone is already on edge because this all happens in the days leading up to the 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum. As many a character says in Good Neighbours, “The ‘Yes’ side could win by only one vote.”
The use of the referendum as a backdrop of Good Neighbours throws a wrench into one’s reading of it as either a thriller or a comedy. The political tension is no laughing matter (not with these clunky jokes, anyways), nor is it a suitable means for motivating a spree of murders. Furthermore, 2011 already saw Canadian film confront the 1980 Quebec referendum in Funkytown, which undertook the subject with greater success. Moreover, while it is admirable that a Canadian film with mainstream potential should tackle such a sensitive moment in history, Tierney doesn’t really develop the political subtext in any meaningful way. By using the referendum, Good Neighbours highlights some difficulties between characters, and it draws out some of the tensions within Canada’s diverse cultural landscape, but the referendum is all but dropped by the film’s end, thus leaving its relevance unclear, save for reaping in a few extra tax dollars. It doesn’t help matters either that the only francophone character who speaks predominantly en français is an over-the-top, black-hearted cuss bucket. If it were not for the fun and ballsy of Anne-Marie Cadieux, the character of Valérie could have been extraordinarily disastrous.
The underdevelopment of the subtext is but one of the pitfalls in the messy scenario of Good Neighbours. Not only does the film become increasing ludicrous with each plot development, but also the twists are predictable and the red herrings glaringly obvious. Add to this some surprisingly hammy performances from the usually reliable lead actors, and Good Neighbours is just as directionless as a murder case without any leads. The only clue provided is dropped by Xavier Dolan, who appears as in a brief cameo as the boyfriend of Victor’s visiting brother (Tierney), but the characters are all too oblivious to make sense of it. Add good sense to the body count, too.
It’s a shame that Good Neighbours is not a stronger film because it clearly has the potential to be one. The film has surprisingly high production value for a Canadian film and the structuring of the final act might have proved suspenseful had the script not been so preposterous. The only good point in Good Neighbours comes via some winning performances by six cats playing the three feline tenants of the building. The cats have all the comedic timing and dramatic prowess missing from the rest of the film. It’s too bad that Good Neighbours focuses on the humans!