Killers and Kitty Litter
“A good neighbor,” according to Robert Browning, “is fatal sometimes,” which twinkle-in-the eye observation fits Canadian Good Neighbors, where propinquity is deadly and secrets are hidden (or not) under Notre Dame de Grace conviviality. Written and directed by Jacob Tierney from a first, French-language novel by Chrystine Brouillet, the neat ninety-nine minutes borders on a beneficial near amateurishness as it picks up headway to finish with a rare satisfactory twist and undeclared future. In this as well as in a puckish humor of situation, it bears not unfavorable comparison to Ealing’s sardonic gems and just as well might have been done in that lamented studio’s black-and-white.
Aside from tropical fish and three important housecats, three neighbors inhabit the mid-‘90s screen-stage, a brick building in which their different-floor flats are alike in layout though markedly individual in décor. Obscene, angry, but at heart lonely and vulnerable Valérie Langlois (Anne-Marie Cadieux) is a fourth resident, along with landlady Mme. Gauthier (Micheline Lanctôt) who gossips with physical therapist-caregiver Miss Van Ilen (Diane D’Aquila) and is a guide to what not to believe. Dour but more astute Montreal PD Detective Roland Brandt (Gary Farmer) fills out the essential cast.
Returning from teaching elementary school in northern China to do the same at home, nerdy, nervous, talky, klutzy, darkly bearded Jewish and slow on the uptake,Victor Spiegelman (Jay Baruchel) involves everyone in his getting settled into a fourth-storey apartment. “Everyone” means Chou’s (Sean Lu) Silver Dragon Chinese café waitress Louise (Emily Hampshire), mothering cats Tia Maria and Mozart to avoid the male-female partnerships of which she would be cynical; and handsomely blond athletic Spencer (Scott Speedman), immersed in Dvorak and immaculate fish tanks and even more sardonic than his female neighbor and seeming confidante, presumably as a result of the road accident that killed his wife and left him wheelchair-bound contrary to optimistic medical prognostications.
“Presumably” as a result, since no one has a past here, nor, despite Tierney’s “character is the action that pushes the plot,” is there interest in what has made the three what they are. Neither is there an attempt at crime suspense: with few to choose among, it is patent early on who the serial killer is that obsesses Louise. She pours through English- and French-language newspapers which hesitate to make serial connections among recent killer-rapist victims, the story pushed from headlines by an upcoming Referendum.
Awkward in masking his intentions and in what the nineteenth century termed “love making,” or courting, lonely Victor falls for his female neighbor, while she does everything short of telling him off to dampen his ardor. Undeterred or unaware, he buys a ring and announces to his briefly visiting brother that he and lovely Louise are engaged, a secret for the time being. Enticed--“seduced” is too loaded--by Balthazar, the brown Siamese cat he has brought back through quarantine, she sidesteps the poor stratagems, invitations and innuendos of its owner. She does, however, allow the eager would-be suitor to escort her home after fellow café worker Johanne (Kaniehtiio Horn) falls victim to the psycho, publically unidentified as yet but, in case the viewer is slow, too, already pointed out to him/her.
The story hides some holes as things come to a head through the Chinese eatery, the cats, a fire escape and Brandt’s investigation of what may be yet one more serial crime -- gratuitously depicted. A delectable frame-up is concocted, and if we did not know better, the clueless fall guy’s fidgets and contradictory stories would convict him, while a series of back-and-forth tête-à- têtes hatches betrayal and cover-up -- realistic, no, but engaging, culminating in poetic justice and fitting ironic poetic injustice.
Sans the sleazy exploitativeness of a whodunit Sliver, Good Neighbors offers uncluttered fun for most all plus an inept misfit who is by comparison the most socially sane, least dangerously maladjusted of all.
(Released by Myriad Pictures and not rated by MPAA.)