Duplex is devilish fun
by Dan MacRae
There’s a scene in Duplex in which Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore excitedly describe the ways they want to kill their (likely) 96-year-old neighbour. Stiller fantasizes (like a 4th grader would about playing centerfield for the Yankees) about beating the elderly woman to death. It was at this point where I lost it and broke into hysterical laughter. Duplex is a slimy, dark, and somewhat sick comedy that, when at its most cruel, is incredibly fun.
Stiller and Barrymore are a yuppie couple in New York looking for a new home in a city notorious for being real estate hell. They snatch up the standard too-good-to-be-true duplex that is spoken of in Gotham mythology. The catch about this apartment (aside from the fact it’s in Brooklyn)? It’s a shared place with a woman approaching the century mark living upstairs. She’s an allegedly sweet old Irish woman who lives alone with a bird in her rent-controlled apartment.
After the young couple moves into their new house, they find that this old bag makes their lives a living hell. Mrs. Connolly plays her TV at levels reserved for Iron Maiden tribute acts, her upstairs apartment is full of cockups that ruin the living conditions below, and she asks the yuppies for help on an eighty-times-a-day basis. Everything she says and does feels like an attempt to gut the young couple with a passive aggressive shiv. After trying to civilly work out their differences, Barrymore and Stiller think the only way they can enjoy their Brownstone piece of paradise is if Mrs. Connolly were to ...go away. Go away then develops into all-out wishes for the old bat to die, and then actual attempts on her life.
Duplex crackles with scuzzball charm. Each exchange between Stiller and Eileen Essel (who plays Mrs. Connolly) is deliciously squirmish. Stiller is so dope in this role, he can probably do the frustrated yuppie schtick in his sleep, but Essel is absolute genius when it comes to bringing this elderly monster to life. Sadly, Barrymore feels a little out of place here, as she’s relegated to a rather dull straightwoman, when she can tackle so much more.
The more cruel or painful the film becomes, the more enjoyable. Sometimes the jokes are relatively lazy (grossout humor has to be handled properly, or not handled at all), but overall Duplex is a gloriously twisted piece of fun. I mean, beating an old lady to death? Hilarious.
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