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Neil Labute

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Neil Labute

In the Company of Men (1997) is a cruel essay on the dis-humanization of corporate business.

Two businessmen are in town for six weeks on a special assignment and decide to play a game: find a vulnerable girl and take advantage of her until she will break down, and even better if she commits suicide. Chad is the aggressive, arrogant, one. Howard is a little insecure and more of a follower. Both have been humiliated by women and want to take revenge, but, in reality, they are humiliated daily by their job and want to vent their frustration against a defenseless being. Chad finds the perfect victim: an extremely efficient secretary, Cristine, who happens to be deaf and can hardly speak. They both romance her and she lets them do, unaware that they know each other. One day the two men run into each other: Howard invites her to lunch, Cristine finds an excuse, Howard shows up at the restaurant and Cristine is there with Chad. Howard is clearly disappointed: he has truly fallen in love. Chad crowns his courtship by sleeping with Cristine, madly in love with him.
Chad enjoys psychological violence and humiliation: he manipulates a young naive employee and even has the poor fellow pull down his pants in his office.
Howard is hurt when Cristine confesses that she has slept with Chad. Howard loses control and tells her the truth, that it was only a game and that he, Howard, is the one who cares for her, not Chad. Howard is dejected. Cristine confronts Chad. Chad enjoys seeing her cry and is proud of having achieved his goal.
Later Howard goes to visit Chad and opens his heart to him only to be himself humiliated by the one he believed to be a friend. Chad stares at him coldly and asks him the same question he asked Cristine: "how does it feel?"
Your Friends And Neighbors (1998) is a bitter sexual play set among the cynical wealthy intellectual elite. It involves two couples and two singles, who basically cheat on each other using sex as a weapon. The plot is fragmented in very brief scenes. It is linear, but at the same time dissonant because scenes start and end abruptly. While not fully satisfactory, the film seems like a self-commentary on the previous film's message. A man, Cary (Jason Patric), simulates his own orgasm and makes a tape of it. At theater, the protagonist of a play, Jerry (Ben Stiller), who is also a drama professor, gives a speech to his students about the towering importance of sex. Terri (Catherine Keener) tells Jerry, her husband, that she can't come because he talks too much during sex. Barry (Aaron Eckhart) tries in vain to make love to his wife Mary (Amy Brenneman). Basically, both couples have sexual problems.
Terri and Jerry visit Eckhart and Brenneman at their new house. Over dinner Terri and Jerry argue bitterly, and later Jerry makes a pass on his friend's wife, Mary, who is surprised but not disgusted at all.
Cary and Barry at the gym Terri at an art gallery meets the artist's assistant, Cheri (Nastassja Kinski) The three men meet at a restaurant, and Jerry makes a phone to Barry's wife from the booth behind the table. In the meantime, Terri is making love to Cheri. Terri and Mary have lunch Cary goes to the same art gallery and meets the same girl and they exchange the same words, except that he explicitly invites her to have sex and she turns away. Mary meets Jerry and basically begs him to take her. The three girls meet at a restaurant and discuss sex: Mary is curious what the other women like, and even makes a tape of Terri explaining how she dislikes her husband's talking during sex. Mary, who looks so candid and naive, seems morbidly fascinated by the fact that she is having sex with her best friend's husband and that her best friend dislikes him. Later Jerry has sex with Mary and talks as usual, but she is feeling guilty or simply disgusted and asks him to leave. Cary listens to the recording of his own orgasm while he exercises.
Barry visits the art gallery and meets Cheri and they exchange the same words, except he makes fun of the paintings.
The three men meet in a sauna and Barry asks the friends what was the best sex they ever had. Barry lies that it is his wife. Cary says it was when he and some friends gang-raped a boy in high school. Jerry hesitates and says to Barry: "your wife". Cary coldly comments that this beats his story. Back home Barry can't find the guts to confront Mary. Cary shows that he is a real psychopath when he curses against a lover who has a period while they are having sex. Terri and Cheri have sex, and Terry confesses that she likes best the fact that they do it silently. Cary and Terri meet at a bookstore, and he tries to seduce her, but she mocks him. He walks out telling her that she's not worth it and she is clearly hurt. Jerry and Mary meet accidentally at the art gallery, but she is still cold to him (mainly because Jerry had suggest Barry took Mary to the same hotel where he, Jerry, had sex with her, Mary). Back home she senses that Barry knows and she confesses. Barry visits Jerry at the theater where he teaches and performs. Jerry apologizes. Then at the gallery he meets Cheri and they exchange pretty much the usual words (it is not clear if he knows about his wife's affair with Terri). Then it is time for Jerry and Terri to confront each other's cheating, but Terri is not willing to compromise.
Terri sleeps again with Cheri, but then refuses to answer her questions (she likes silence and Cheri is beginning to sound like her husband). Barry can't even masturbate anymore. And his wife Mary is in bed with Cary.

Nurse Betty (2000) is almost the opposite, at least morally speaking. It is almost a Christmas story, where everybody is in love with a fantasy and lives to make it happen. Good feelings prevail, and the humour is sweet.

The movie opens with a scene in a surgery room. It soon appears that it is seen through the screen of a tv set. Betty is a waitress in a restaurant in a small town in Kansas. Her one and only hobby is to watch a soap opera that takes place in a Los Angeles hospital. She is in love with the protagonist, David, who plays the surgeon. She is so absorbed that she hardly notices the two customers, two black guys, Charlie and Wesley, who are drinking coffee at the counter. At a table sit two of her friends, the sheriff and the reporter, Roy.
Betty is a sweet, simple, loving, caring creature, with a big, warm smile. It is her birthday and the other waitresses have organized a little surprise for her: money to fullfil her dream of taking a class on nursing. Unfortunately, her husband Del is famous for taking advantage of her good heart.
Del is a car salesman. He is having sex with his secretary when Betty calls to borrow a car. Betty would like her favorite Buick, but Del tells her to take another model. Nonetheless Betty borrows the Buick.
The car is for going out with her friend the nice neighbor. But she can't make it and Betty has to spend her birthday evening at home watching tv. Betty cooks dinner for her husband, who hardly thanks her. She's smiling no matter what. Del has to see two men for business and leaves her. Betty turns on the tv set and watches a videotape of the soap opera. She's so taken by the soap opera that hardly notices her husband coming back with the very two men who were at the restaurant, Charlie and Wesley. Del wants to show off, but they are real gangsters and soon pull out the gun. Del has something they want. They tie him to the chair and threaten to scalp him if he doesn't tell them. He tells them the dough is in the trunk of the Buick. Betty hears suspicious noises and watches from her room. She sees Wesley who, before leaving, can't resist and really scalps Del. Del tries to run away and Charlie shoots him.
Betty walks back to her room and keeps watching the videotape, as if nothing had happened. Her friend the neighbor comes to bring her a suprise birthday cake and finds Del's body. The sheriff and Roy arrive and find Betty in a state of denial. She doesn't seem bothered at all by the murder.
The killers are searching all the Buicks in the parking lot, but can't find the right one (that is parked in Betty's garage). The sheriff begins to suspect that Betty killed her husband because she found out about his flirt with the secretary. A psychologist states that she is still under shock. Betty comes back home, writes a farewell letter to her husband, takes the Buick and starts driving. Charlie and Wesley read in the newspaper that she was home and that she took off on the Buick and that she is now the suspect. Charlie and Wesley begin chasing her because of the Buick, while the sheriff wants her because of the murder.
She drives all the way to a small bar in Arizona, where she tells a waitress like her that she is heading for Los Angeles where she's going to meet her old fiance`, David, who is a surgeon, etc. She also calls her neighbor and tells her she's halfway to Los Angeles. She obviously believes she is one of the characters of the soap opera and that the soap opera is reality. The shock has left her with no memory of the murder.
The neighbor tries to convince the sheriff of what Betty is doing, but the sheriff would not believe her. Roy believes her. Charlie and Wesley, who have talked to the neighbor before she spoke with Betty, head for Betty's grandparents, her only relatives. They try in vain to get useful clues from them, and Charlie can't resist stealing her diary.
Betty has reached Los Angeles and enters the clinic dressed like a nurse. They tell her that there is no such a doctor, and reject her application anyway. She walks outside and witnessed a shootout. A gangster gets killed by the police, while she helps a patient in an ambulance using whatever knowledge of nursing she learned from the soap opera. The clinic hires her, but only as a pharmacist. However, Betty can't be stopped: she starts taking care of patients, and thus meets the daughter of one of them, Rosa. Rosa offers her to share her apartment. Betty moves in an immediately tells her why she came to Los Angeles: to find her old fiance` David. Rosa spends the weekend driving around the city with Betty and looking for that doctor.
Rosa finds out that David is only the character of a soap opera and is furious at Betty, who has no justification. Betty lives in a fantasy world, and has merged that fantasy with her true identity.
Charlie and Wesley are driving in the desert toward Arizona. Charlie keeps Betty's photograph in front of him and reads from her diary. He's slowly getting obsessed with Betty's sweet and innocent persona.
Rosa decides to heal Betty by taking her to a party that the actor will attend. Betty does meet the actor, whose real name is George, but the impossible happens: Betty starts talking to George as if he is really David and she is his old fiance`, and George replies in kind. The two are entertaining. It is only a game, but not for Betty. George-David is so fascinated that he invites her to join them and eventually drives her back home in his car. Betty never stops playing the game (because it's reality to her mind) and he is impressed by her determination.
The two gangsters get to the small bar in Arizona and force the waitress to tell them what she knows. As incredible as it sounds, they have no alternative but to drive to Los Angeles.
Back to the studio, George talks the producer into hiring Betty as a new theme for the stagnating soap opera. George takes Betty to his place, and is fascinated by her constant playing the role of his fiance`.
The two gangsters are in Los Angeles and Charlie sees Betty with George-David. Charlie refuses to believe that she's crazy. He is now living in a fantasy world of his own, completely in love with his fantasy woman.
Betty is taken to the set and asked to improvise. Surrounded by the actors and by the cameras, she panicks. She can't act, because this is reality for her, and eventually breaks down and wakes up. She remembers the murder and runs away. Rosa finds her packing. But the gangsters are there. They open the trunk of the Buick and see that the packets of cocaine are still there. They enter the house and tie the two women. Minutes later the bell rings and Roy and the sheriff show up: they realized she is in mortal danger and came to warn her. While Wesley watches everybody, Charlie locks himself in Betty's room with Betty. Betty thinks he wants to rape her, but instead he just wants to confess his love to her. In the other room, Wesley learns that his favorite character in the soap opera is lesbian and is furious. Rosa plays a videotape and Wesley is as absorbed as Betty used to be. Roy and the sheriff take advantage of this distraction and kill him. Charlie reveals that Wesley was his son: his son has been killed because of a soap opera. They wound him too, and Betty seizes his gun. Charlie begs her to give him the gun so he can shoot his way out or die. Betty eventually gives in, Charlie walks out and gets killed.
Now the producer of the soap opera hires her to revitalize the show. Her friends watch her on tv.
Betty watches herself (comically dubbed in Italian) in Rome, while she's sitting at a cafe`. The waiter is as hypnotized by her character as she used to be by David.
Everybody lives in a fantasy world, to some degrees. Betty slips into it because of her tragic life. Charlie slips into it because of his criminal life. The film is, of course, also a parody of soap opera: it is a soap opera about a soap opera. Charlie is a co-protagonist of the film. Both Betty and Charlie travel across America chasing their fantasy. But Charlie is an old gangster at the end of his career. He is a pathetic mask, a man who has lived to kill, and whose son has been killed. And his only hope, his dream woman, turns out to be crazy. The film is also a study of loneliness and of how lonely people desperately need to find a life. Betty finds a new life in a soap opera character, Charlie finds a new life chasing a waitress. They both need a reason to keep living.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Erika Sofi)

In the Company of Men (1997) e' un saggio crudele sulla disumanizzazione del business aziendale.

Due uomini d'affari si trovano in citta' per sei giorni su incarico speciale e decidono di fare un gioco: trovano una ragazza vulnerabile e approfittano di lei fino a farla crollare, anche meglio se poi arriva al suicidio. Chad e' aggressivo, arrogante. Howard e' insicuro, poco piu' che un seguace. Entrambi sono stati umiliati dalle donne e vogliono prendersi una rivincita, ma, in realta' subiscono quotidianamente delle umiliazioni dal loro lavoro e vogliono vendicare la loro frustrazione contro una persona indifesa. Chad trova la vittima perfetta, una segrataria, Cristine, che e' diventata sorda e riesce appena a parlare. Entrambi tentano di sedurla e lei li lascia fare, inconsapevole del fatto che sono complici. Un giorno i due uomini si incontrano: Howard invita Cristine a pranzo, e lei trova una scusa, Howard irrompe nel ristorante e Cristine e' insieme a Chad. Howard e' chiaramente contrariato: si e' realmente innamorato di Cristine. Chad corona il suo corteggiamento andando a letto con Cristine, perdutamente innamorata di lui.
Chad prova piacere nell'esercitare violenza psicologica e nell'umiliare gli altri: manipola un giovane e ingenuo impiegato e al poverino fa persino calare i pantaloni in ufficio.
Howard soffre quando Cristine gli confessa di essere andata a letto con Chad. Howard perde il controllo e le dice la verita', e cioe' che si tratta soltanto di un gioco, che e' lui, Howard, quello che tiene a lei , non Chad. Howard e' avvilito. Cristine affronta Chad. Chad gode nel vederla piangere ed e' orgoglioso di aver raggiunto il suo scopo.
Piu' tardi Howard va a trovare Chad e gli apre il suo cuore soltanto per poi farsi a sua volta umiliare da quello che riteneva un suo amico. Chad lo guarda freddamente e pone la stessa domanda che aveva fatto a Cristine: "come ci si sente?"

Nurse Betty (2000) e' quasi il contrario, almeno moralmente parlando. E' quasi una storia di Natale, dove tutti sono innamorati di una fantasia e vivono per far si che questa si realizzi. I buoni sentimenti prevalgono, e l'umorismo e' sottile.

Il film inizia con una scena ambientata in una sala operatoria. Sembra subito di vederla attraverso lo schermo di un televisore. Betty e' cameriera in un ristorante in una cittadina del Kansas. Il suo solo e unico hobby e' guardare una soap opera che si svolge in un ospedale di Los Angeles. E' innamorata del protagonista, David, che fa il chirurgo. E' talmente assorta che quasi non si accorge di due clienti, due uomini di colore, Charlie e Wesley, che stanno prendendo un caffe' al banco. Ad un tavolo sono seduti due suoi amici, lo sceriffo e un cronista, Roy.
Betty e' una persona dolce, affettuosa e generosa, dal sorriso grande e caldo. E' il giorno del suo compleanno e le altre cameriere le hanno preparato una piccola sorpresa: del denaro per realizzare il suo sogno di frequentare un corso per infermiera. Sfortunatamente, suo marito Del e' noto per approfittare del suo buon cuore.
Del e' un rivenditore di auto. Sta facendo sesso con la segretaria quando Betty lo chiama per prendere in prestito una macchina. Lei vorrebbe la sua Buick preferita, ma Del vuole che lei prenda un altro modello. Ma Betty prende comunque la Buick.
La macchina le serve per uscire con la sua amica e vicina di casa. Ma non puo' farlo e Betty deve passare il giorno del suo compleanno in casa a guardare la tv. Betty prepara la cena per suo marito, che la ringrazia appena. Ma lei ha sempre il sorriso sulle labbra. Del deve incontrare due uomini per affari e se ne va. Betty accende il televisore e inizia a guardare la videoccasseta della soap opera. E' talmente presa dalla soap opera che a mala pena si accorge che suo marito e' tornato con due uomini, gli stessi che erano al ristorante, Charlie and Wesley. Del vuole fare il duro, ma si tratta di due veri gangster che presto estraggono la pistola. Del ha qualcosa che loro vogliono. Lo legano ad una sedia e minacciano di ucciderlo se non parla. Del confessa che la grana si trova nel bagagliaio della Buick. Betty sente dei rumori sospetti e osserva dalla sua stanza.Vede Wesley che, prima di andarsene, non puo' resistere dal fare il bagarino. Del tenta di scappare e Charlie gli spara.
Betty torna nella sua stanza e continua a guardare la videocassetta, come se nulle fosse accaduto. La sua vicina di casa va a trovarla per portarle una torta per il suo compleanno e trova corpo di Del. Arrivano lo sceriffo e Roy e trovano Betty in stato confusionale. Non sembra turbata affatto dall'omicidio.
I killer intanto controllano ogni Buick nell'area parcheggio, ma non trovano quella giusta (che si trova nel garage di Betty). Lo sceriffo comincia a sospettare che sia stata Betty a uccidere il marito perche' aveva scoperto il flirt con la segretaria.Uno psicologo afferma che Betty e' ancora sotto shock. Betty torna a casa, scrive una lettera di addio al marito, prende la Buick e parte. Charlie e Wesley scoprono dai giornali che lei si trovava a casa e che ha preso la Buick e che ora e' il principale sospettato. Charlie e Wesley cominciano a cercarla perche' vogliono la Buick, mentre lo sceriffo la cerca per l'omicidio.
Senza fermarsi Betty arriva in un piccolo bar dell'Arizona, dove racconta ad una cameriera di essere diretta a Los Angeles per incontrare il suo ex fidanzato, David, che fa il chirurgo,e cosŤ via. Inoltre chiama la sua vicina di casa dicendole di trovarsi a meta' strada da Los Angeles.Ovviamente crede di essere un personaggio della soap opera. Lo shock le ha fatto dimenticare l'omicidio.
La vicina di casa cerca di convincere lo sceriffo su cio' che Betty sta facendo, ma lo sceriffo non vuole crederle. Roy invece le crede. Charlie e Wesley, che avevano parlato con la vicina di casa prima che questa parlasse con Betty, sono diretti verso i nonni di Betty i suoi unici parenti. Cercano invano di ottenere da loro informazioni utili, e Charlie non puo' resistere dal rubare il diario di Betty.
Betty arriva a Los Angeles e entra in una clinica vestita da infermiera. Le viene detto che non c'e' il medico che lei sta cercando, e comunque rifiutano la sua domanda di impiego. Esce per strada e assiste ad una sparatoria. Un gangster viene ucciso dalla polizia, mentre lei sta assistendo un paziente sull'ambulanza mettendo in pratica le poche conoscenze mediche imparate guardando la soap opera. La clinica l'assume ma soltanto come farmacista. Tuttavia, nessuno puo' fermare Betty: inizia a prendersi cura dei pazienti, e incontra cosŤ la figlia di uno di loro, Rosa. Rosa le propone di dividere con lei l'appartamento. Betty accetta e immediatamente le racconta che cosa l'ha spinta a Los Angeles: trovare il suo ex fidanzato David. Rosa passa il weekend andando in giro per la citta' con Betty in cerca di questo medico.
Rosa scopre che David e' soltanto il personaggio di una soap opera e si arrabbia con Betty, che non riesce a trovare una giustificazione. Betty vive in un mondo fantastico, e mescola questa fantasia con la sua vera identita'.
Charlie e Wesley si trovano nel deserto diretti in Arizona. Charlie tiene davanti a se' la foto di Betty mentre legge il suo diario. Lentamente diventa ossessionato dalla dolcezza e dall' innocenza di Betty.
Rosa decide di aiutare Betty portandola ad un party a cui partecipa anche l'attore. Betty incontra l'attore, il cui vero nome e' George, ma avviene l'inaspettato: Betty inizia a parlare con George come se lui fosse realmente David e lei la sua fidanzata, e George la asseconda. I due conversano. Si tratta soltanto di un gioco, ma non per Betty. George-David ne e' talmente affascinato che la invita a unirsi a loro e le propone di riaccompagnarla a casa con la sua auto. Betty continua il gioco (perche' nella sua mente quella e' la realta') e lui rimane colpito dalla sua determinazione.
I due gangster arrivano al piccolo bar in Arizona e costringono la cameriera e dire tutto quello che sa. Incredibile ma vero, ma non hanno alternativa se non quella di andare a Los Angeles.
Nello studio, George chiede al produttore di assumere Betty come nuovo tema per l'ormai stagnante soap opera. George porta Betty a casa sua, ed e' affascinato dal suo continuo recitare il ruolo della sua fidanzata.
I due gangster si trovano a Los Angeles e Charlie vede Betty con George-David. Charlie si rifiuta di credere che sia pazza.Ora e' lui che sta vivendo a sua volta in un mondo fantastico, perdutamente innamorato di questa donna fantastica.
Betty viene portata sul set e le viene chiesto di improvvisare. Circondata da attori e da telecamere, va in panico. Non sa recitare, perche' questa per lei e' la realta', e alla fine crolla e si risveglia. Si ricorda dell'omicidio e scappa. Rosa la vede fare le valige. Ma i gangster arrivano. Aprono il bagagliaio della Buick e vedono che i sacchetti di cocaina sono ancora li'. Irrompono in casa e legano le due donne. Qualche minuto dopo suona il campanello e entrano Roy e lo sceriffo: hanno scoperto che Betty si trova in pericolo di vita e vogliono avvertirla. Mentre Wesley tiene tutti sotto controllo, Charlie si chiude nella camera con Betty. Betty pensa che voglia violentarla, invece lui le confessa il suo amore per lei. Nell'altra stanza, Wesley scopre che il suo personaggio preferito della soap opera e' lesbica e va su tutte le furie. Rosa mette una videocassetta e Wesley ne e' rapito come lo era Betty. Roy e lo sceriffo approfittano della sua distrazione e lo uccidono. Charlie confessa che Wesley era suo figlio: suo figlio e' stato ucciso a causa di una soap opera. Feriscono anche lui, e Betty gli afferra la pistola. Charlie la supplica di dargli l'arma cosi' puo sparare a sua volta o morire. Betty alla fine gliela da', Charlie esce e viene ucciso.
Ora il produttore della soap opera la assume per dar piu' vita allo show. I suo amici la vedono in tv.
Betty si vede a Roma (comicamente doppiata in italiano), mentre e' seduta in un caffe'. Il cameriere e' ipnotizzato dal suo personaggio come lo era lei da David.
Tutti vivono in un mondo fantastico, in una certa misura. Betty sembra immergersi in questo mondo a causa della sua triste vita. Charlie lo fa a causa della sua vita criminale. Il film e' anche, senza dubbio, la parodia di una soap opera: e' la soap opera di una soap opera. Charlie e' il coprotagonista del film. Sia Betty che Charlie viaggiano attraverso l'America inseguendo una loro fantasia. Ma Charlie e' un vecchio gangster alla fine della sua carriera. Si tratta di una maschera patetica, un uomo che e' vissuto per uccidere, a cui e' stato ucciso il figlio. La sua unica speranza, la sua donna dei sogni, risulta essere folle. Il film e' anche un'analisi sulla solitudine e su come la gente ha disperatamente bisogno di trovare una vita. Betty trova la sua nuova vita nel personaggio di una soap opera, Charlie invece inseguendo una cameriera. Entrambi hanno bisogno di una ragione per continuare a vivere.
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