Film Review: The Good Neighbor

Clever and funny, technically excellent caper film, with an amazingly moving emotional payoff at the end.
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In the long and honorable genre of a couple of kids with too much time on their hands pranking the grownups, which has included everything from I Saw What You Did to the delightful The World of Henry Orient, comes The Good Neighbor. The story follows two tech-savvy nerds, Sean (Keir Gilchrist) and Ethan (Logan Miller), who decide to spy on their weird, scary neighbor, Harold Grainey (James Caan), in order to uncover whatever nefariousness they are certain he is hiding.

Directed by Kasra Farahani from a clever script by Mark Bianculli and Jeff Richard, this claustrophobic caper film engages you right off like a good short story, with its wisecracking, horny young heroes and savvily modulated tone of farce mixed with dark drama. Actually, although the movie’s settings are pretty much confined to one boy’s bedroom and the interior of Grainey’s secrets-filled house, it never feels claustrophobic, due to Farahani’s mastery of a battery of cinematic visuals, sound and editing, which showcases the boys’ espionage ingenuity with a bristling elán.

The screenplay is a model of good construction, starting out joshingly light and breezy and then gradually descending more and more into darkness, with a final jolt of deep humanity that is richly satisfying. Miller and Gilchrist reward their director with beautifully timed, well-thought-out performances that instantly engage you. Ethan is the more complex (and pretty troubled) of the two, and physically, especially, Miller may remind you of the young Heath Ledger, who always managed to suggest certain mysterious depths in even his most facilely written roles. Gilchrist plays the lesser alpha here, imbuing Sean with a slightly nagging neurotic quality that is the perfect comic foil for his BFF.

Caan’s Bambi eye “improvement” almost renders him completely unrecognizable as, say, an older Sonny Corleone from his immortal The Godfather. Yet he brings an essential weight and sly wit to the film, which is almost like a bookend to Bottle Rocket, which also presented him as an old grump having to endure youthful testosteronic shenanigans, and which I still find to be Wes Anderson’s best film.

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