The topics of mid-life crises and of hitting a rough patch after flying at the height of your life and career aren’t alien to anyone. Many movies have explored these issues, but Finding Neighbors explores them with a refreshing maturity and thought-provoking conversations that keep the film from getting boring and uninteresting. The use of some graphic novelization only adds to the plot’s layers.
Sam Tucker (Michael O’Keefe) is a renowned graphic novelist whose last published work isn’t what he expected it to be and is six months late on a new book deal. He rose to fame with his first two graphic novels and became well-known, going through all the lows and highs of fame. Now, he is in a mid-life crisis mode after crashing to a halt six years after his last book. He no longer feels any passion for his work, stays at home all day, has no muse, spies on his hot neighbor Sherrie (Julie Mond), and has grown distant from his wife Mary (Catherine Dent).
While Mary’s at work, Sam begins to get acquainted with his next-door neighbor Jeff (Blake Bashoff), who’s suffering through his own crises. Out of work and seeking to connect with someone other than his partner Paul (Sean Patrick Thomas), who makes him feel suffocated at times, Jeff and Sam strike up a friendship that inspires Sam and has him reevaluate his life, the people in it, and his passion for his work.
Part of the joy of Finding Neighbors is its ability to get to the heart of the crises people face all the time in a heartfelt and amusing way, because all of these characters are seeking some kind of connection in the world. It’s one of the things we seek: to feel close to people, to gain new perspectives, to get that spark back. Sam seeks a connection to his work and to the world in general, Mary seeks it from Sam, and Sherrie seeks it from her boyfriend Carlos (Gianfranco Russo) even if it’s through a computer screen. The film explores stages everyone goes through, the loss of something that might have been driving you before, links to people, and so on. There are very adult conversations going on in the movie and that gives it a maturity that isn’t always present in other films.
The art sketches that envelope and overlap certain scenes as the story progresses is creative and fits in well with Sam’s story. Also, it creates a scenario where everything is not talked about onscreen, but rather told through a graphic novel-style setting. Showing and telling at the same time without taking away from the movie, this technique is used well, especially in the beginning as the graphics play out with a voice-over accompaniment.
Michael O’Keefe is entirely believable as Sam. He’s grouchy sometimes, but tries to listen and be there for Mary even when he’s become accustomed to zoning out and feeling useless and being a disappointing mess. He tries to overcome it all and you can track his progress through the film just in the use of his body language. The supporting cast is excellent as well. O’Keefe obviously has the best chemistry with Catherine Dent and Blake Bashoff, and their scenes together really shine. It’s refreshing to see Sean Patrick Thomas as well, even if his onscreen time and his character are generally underused.
The major frustration, however, is its use of Sherrie, the sexually blunt neighbor Sam finds attractive. Her character is there only to cause some tension between Sam and Mary, but at the same time she has her own character arc. It’s her character arc that simply doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film. We know she has a boyfriend, but it’s not clear if it’s a long-distance relationship or if he’s just away on some long-term trip. All we know is that they have issues, but nothing is explained beyond that. Her scenes with her boyfriend feel almost random and whether it’s trying to garner any emotional reaction from the audience, Sherrie is easily the least sympathetic character in the film and her scenes with Carlos could have been set aside.
Ultimately, Finding Neighbors is a mature take on an age-old topic. There are moments that move along a little slowly, but the film digs in immediately and really gets into thorough and intriguing conversations about growing old, losing your passion, and finding connections with people. There are no over-the-top shenanigans or melodramatic turns for the characters, just a guy who’s stuck in the middle and doesn’t know how to keep moving anymore. A genuinely heartfelt film.