A wickedly funny noir set in a Montreal apartment building haunted by Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski and René Lévesque, Good Neighbours delights in mischievous puns and sight gags.
Our story begins just prior to the 1995 Quebec referendum, as a bungling Anglophone moves into the building.
A newspaper headline suggests that the vote on Quebec's future within Canada is a "dead heat." Good Neighbours isn't overtly concerned with Quebec politics, however. The framed picture of Quebec independence hero Lévesque in the foyer is always seen out of focus. Suggesting what? That the sovereigntist cause is a dim, but somehow persistent memory?
In any case, filmmaker Jacob Tierney ( The Trotsky) doesn't appear to care much about separatists and federalists. "Dead heat" is more his cup of tea.
Our hapless protagonist, Victor (Jay Baruchel), is thrilled to find two English-Canadians in his new apartment: Spencer (Scott Speedman), a young wheelchair-bound widower and a smiling psychopath who enjoys feeding small fish to bigger ones in an elaborate aquarium, and Louise (Emily Hampshire), a cat lover whose pets would love to dine on Spencer's fish.
Just down the hall we have a French-Canadian tenant, a profane, bathrobe-wearing alcoholic who wants to murder Louise's cats. Oh, and there is a very real killer who is roaming Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, stalking and strangling young women.
Good neighbours, indeed. NDG is suppertime at the zoo. And Victor's new friends are cold as the ice in the old Montreal Forum. Here's Spencer and Louise discussing whether or not to lend Victor a hand when he moves in:
Louise: "I feel like I should help him but. …
Spencer: "But what?"
Louise: "I don't want to."
Spencer: "That's my girl."
The trio become friends. At least Victor thinks so. He falls in love with asexual Louise, who maintains a lab-experiment interest in Spencer, the paraplegic, by trying to see what happens if both drink way too much. And Good Neighbours is at its mordantly creepy best when Spencer and Louise circle each other, smiling, gargling wine, probing for secrets.
Filmmaker Tierney gets intriguing performances from both players, while indulging in a tantalizing bit of film scholarship: Who would win if insolent Bruno in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train tangled with Catherine Deneuve's mad manicurist in Polanski's Repulsion?
The film can be seen as an attempt to round off Polanski's evil-apartment trilogy ( Repulsion- Rosemary's Baby- The Tenant). And like Hitchcock, Tierney can't help staring down staircases, swooning at the possibility of becoming unbalanced. Then seeing what happens next.
Good Neighbours is based on a story by Quebec novelist Chrystine Brouillet. But Tierney locates the story during Quebec's judgment hour, shooting his movie just down the street from Baruchel's Montreal apartment.
Why set Brouillet's story during a referendum on Quebec's future? Because Tierney, apparently, in what is the film's most wicked impulse, can't resist casting Baruchel, an actor with a red maple leaf over his heart, as a cornball Captain Canada, dressing him in ghastly Christmas-present sweaters and a high-school English teacher's beard.
Only Baruchel's Victor is interested in the referendum results. He suggests that the three friends have a party, watching the plebiscite play out on television. His character's name, Victor (read: referendum winner), is another of the film's puns. But what has Victor's team gained? Filmmaker Tierney leaves that for others to say. His mercilessly cruel, always watchable film succeeds as a parable of a time when predators roamed the island of Montreal, trying like hell to destroy one another.
- Written and directed by Jacob Tierney
- Starring Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, Scott Speedman and Gary Farmer
- Classification: 14A
Special to The Globe and Mail