The Neighbor
First Look Pictures // Unrated // $24.98 // September 23, 2008
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted September 25, 2008
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In 10 Words or Less
The older crowd gets a weak rom-com of their own

Reviewer's Bias*
Likes: Rom-Coms, Matthew Modine, Richard Kind
Dislikes: Bad rom-com premises
Hates: The best-friend characters

The Movie
It's been a long time since Matthew Modine was a high school wrestler in Vision Quest. Now, he's almost old enough to be Louden Swain's dad, and, as a result, has transitioned to playing dads, like Jeff, his character in The Neighbor, a divorced father of a teenage girl, who's struggling both personally and professionally. Jeff is a designer whose idealism prevents him from taking on jobs he doesn't believe in, and yet he has a pretty impressive apartment with an incredible view, with enough room to pursue his passion for painting (creating work that he refuses to sell.)

Jeff is pretty much the opposite of Christine (Michele Laroque), his downstairs neighbor who works in real estate. Heading to the altar with her ultra-yuppie fiance, she has plans for expansion, with an her eye on Jeff's place. But for some odd reason, he refuses to abandon his fantastic home. That adds fuel to the fire that burns between them, the kind of adorable hatred that only exists in romantic comedies and reveals itself through wars of words, which suspiciously feel like flirtation. It's not possible that beneath their shared loathing there might be love, could it? Nah...that's crazy talk.

In a twist that could only happen in the move-eze, Jeff learns from his daughter that his ex-wife is re-marrying, and in order to show her that he's doing fine without her, he needs a date to attend her wedding with. So... in steps Christine, who will help in exchange for him moving out. It's really just a ridiculous concept, and the way it plays out, and everything that follows (a storyline you've likely already figured out) asks you to suspend some serious disbelief. That doesn't always work, especially during the wedding, where the idea can guess what happens, just doesn't work. The two characters, who we are told hate each other, can drop the hostility with the ease of flipping a light switch, which is asking just too much of the viewer. It's the eternal struggle of romantic comedies built around love/hate relationships, but here it feels more like love/minor annoyance.

The sad thing about this movie being so ho-hum and unbelievable plot-wise, is there's some serious talent going to waste. Modine is as likeable as he's ever been, and solid as a guy basically just coping, Gina Mantegna does a nice job as his daughter, who's emotionally pulled in a couple disparate directions by the adults in her life, and director Eddie O'Flaherty and his crew rise to the occasion, lending the film a look and feel that the material may not have deserved. But when you see a really funny guy like Richard Kind get almost nothing fun to do as Christine's boss, it's a disappointment that's symbolic of the overall film. It'd be interesting to see what O'Flaherty could do with a stronger script.

A one-disc release, this DVD is packed in a standard keepcase, and features a slightly-animated anamorphic widescreen menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the special features. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, while subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish. There's no closed captioning.

The Quality
The anamorphic widescreen transfer on this film is good for an indie film, though it has a pervasive softness to the image that makes the movie frequently gauzy-looking. That's the only negative though, as the color is good, the level of detail is mostly fine, and there are no issues with dirt, damage or digital artifacts.

For a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, this film is awfully limited in terms of the audio, as I couldn't hear much of anything coming from the sides and rear. All that's noticeable is the center-focused dialogue and incidental music, neither of which blew me way, even during a scene where music is supposedly just BLASTING, but it just kind of loud. The sound effects, on the other hand, are impressive, and really stand out.

The Extras
The only extras you get are some trailers, including one for Sukiyaki Western Django, by Takashi Miike, which looks pretty interesting.

The Bottom Line
Another in a long line of romantic comedies that struggle with their reasons for being, The Neighbor has the trappings of a successful movie, but one you want it for a while, you soon hope it will be over, as it's nothing you haven't already seen before. The DVD looks and sounds OK, but with no extras to be had, you'd have a hard time justifying shelf space for this film.

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