Jay Baruchel Gets Ghastly in Good Neighbours
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Jay Baruchel Gets Ghastly in Good Neighbours

Jay Baruchel ramps it up in Good Neighbours.

Canadian filmmakers know that the hardest part of their jobs is getting Canadian audiences to watch Canadian movies. It’s especially true in English Canada, where the unabated influx of American movies, with glossier production values and fatter marketing budgets, makes it next to impossible for homegrown features to stand on their own. After all, the logic goes, why have hamburger when you can have Kevin James soliciting dating advice from a bunch of talking animals?
And against all these competing forces, you’ve got to hand it to Jay Baruchel, the long-time Montrealer who has flipped the script and parlayed his success as a comic actor in the States into boosting the profile of Canadian cinema. In his latest vehicle, Good Neighbours ( 4 STARS ) Baruchel re-teams with writer-director Jacob Tierney and co-star Emily Hampshire, of 2009’s Canada’s Top Ten–recognized The Trotsky. Unlike Trotsky, which was like a John Hughes high-school flick packing The Marx-Engels Reader in its back pocket, Good Neighbours is a sly crime thriller—one that sees both Baruchel and Tierney working at the top of their respective games.

“If Jacob was making it, then I wanted to be in it,” Baruchel says of his involvement in the film. “If he wants me to come and play in one of his movies, I’ll be there. But I loved how dark, and macabre, and different from The Trotsky it was. I love The Trotsky, but Good Neighbours is closer to my taste, to the kinds of movies that I watch.” While he notes that he and his director’s general sensibilities about movies aren’t identical (“He’s more your typical film-student snob, and I’m a Brian De Palma apologist”), Good Neighbours does situate itself at a strange intersection of both Baruchel’s and Tierney’s tastes. A noir-inspired thriller layered in shades of Hitchcock, Polanski, and, yes, De Palma, Neighbours follows Victor (Baruchel) as he attempts to unravel the mystery behind a series of murders in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood on the eve of the 1995 sovereignty referendum. Though adapted by Tierney from the book by Chrystine Brouillet, which he read in grade nine, the referendum setting is unique to the film. Tierney’s Good Neighbours invests the story with both historical specificity and a sense of mounting dread—the rising body count dovetails nicely with the political climate.
“I can never, ever forget that time,” says Baruchel, who lived in Montreal during the referendum. “I was 13 years old and it was an incredibly important time. And not pleasant in the least. It was horrifying, to be honest. It was pitting neighbour against neighbour, Montrealer against Montrealer.” It’s this sense of wincing suspicion that defines the atmosphere of Good Neighbours, as Baruchel’s Victor, Hampshire’s Louise, and Scott Speedman’s Spencer begin to suspect one anothers’ involvement in the grisly neighbourhood murders and begin playing one against the other. It’s a refreshingly mature change for Baruchel, who typically winds up typecast in the States as a nervous doofus (Knocked Up), clumsy dweeb (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), lovelorn loser (She’s Out Of My League), or voice of adolescent outcast (How to Train Your Dragon, which took Toronto Film Critics Association honours for Best Animated Feature last year).

Tierney (left) with director of photography Guy Dufaux on the set of Good Neighbours.

“Jay knows what he’s doing,” says Tierney. “He’s really smart. And he makes a lot of smart choices. I think what’s cool for him is that Victor’s a man. He’s an adult. He’s not a man-child. He’s a grownup. I think it was cool for Jay to be able to play his age.” It’s precisely the kind of role he’s rarely afforded in the U.S. And it’s this ability to move between industrial and artistic spheres that makes Baruchel so interesting. That, and his personal commitment to kicking Canadian cinema in the butt, however he can. He’s currently putting the finishing touches on Goon, a hard-brawling hockey picture he co-wrote with Evan Goldberg (Superbad), produced, and had directed by Michael Dowse (Fubar, It’s All Gone Pete Tong). “I’m hell-bent on it,” says Baruchel, of changing popular attitudes toward Canadian cinema. “I think it’s a terrible, fucked-up truth, that Canadian kids are forced to grow up and accept that the be-all-and-end-all creatively and financially is to move to America. It’s blasphemous to me.”
As for Tierney, he’s just happy to be able to make the films he wants to make. “We do a lot of finger-waving at our audiences in this country, and I think that’s a mistake,” he says. “Nobody wants to do homework. And I think we’ve spent at least 10, maybe 15 years, turning Canadian movies into homework.”
Lucky for audiences, Good Neighbours doesn’t play out like a chore or a case of “eat your veggies” or a boring homework assignment. It’s more like the grisly, offbeat pulp novel you’re really reading when you’re in your bedroom, pretending to do your homework.
Good Neighbours opens Friday, June 3, for a limited engagement at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West). Click here for showtimes and tickets. Jacob Tierney will be in attendance for a Q&A at the premiere on Friday, June 3, at 7:10 p.m.