Angry Neighbors – A Disappointing Film Adaptation of ‘Lapham Rising’

Elephant cartoon by Dan Rattiner
Cartoon by Dan Rattiner

A new movie about the Hamptons debuted on December 2. Called Angry Neighbors, it stars four-time Tony winner Frank Langella, Tony winner Stockard Channing, Cheech Marin and Tony nominee Bobby Cannavale.

Here’s how the promoters of the film describe it.

“When his ultra-wealthy neighbor in the Hamptons builds an obnoxious mega mansion next door, grumpy retired novelist Harry March concocts an elaborate scheme for revenge that is destined to go hilariously wrong.”

In many ways, this is a movie that needed to be made. Twice in recent years, the residents of the Hamptons – specifically Sagaponack and Southampton – got all fired up in opposition to monster oceanfront projects that celebrated unimaginable excess. One, a house of 110,000 square feet with 30 bedrooms, was completed and occupied and is now shielded from prying eyes by a forest full of newly planted evergreens.

People still grumble about it. Others have accepted it. The other, a French castle with great turrets rising above the legal limit, 20 bedrooms and a shark-infested aquarium, got partially completed, lived in for awhile that way (Calvin Klein had it in the end), and then finally got torn down.

One good thing that came of this outsized opulence was new zoning limits that now mute the hoopla, so to speak. And another result was a book, a stunning best-selling work of fiction by novelist Roger Rosenblatt called Lapham Rising that appeared in 2006. Lapham is the fictional billionaire. Rising is what his gigantic mansion is doing on a peninsula of land that borders Georgica Pond in East Hampton.

And one person who plots to destroy this monstrosity before it can be completed – its banging construction will take years – is a retired novelist who lives alone with his dog in an old saltbox on a tiny island in the middle of the pond – and often talks to his dog, who talks back.

Indeed, this film is based on Rosenblatt’s book. It says so in the credits. But Rosenblatt, for a long time, didn’t think it would ever get completed. It production was delayed for two years by COVID, and in the end, after his screenplay was discarded and its friendly director Charlie Kessler replaced with someone else, it became so unlike his book that he asked that his name be taken off the credits. It wasn’t, but it was reduced from “screenplay by” to just “based on the book Lapham Rising by Roger Rosenblatt.”

Well, I streamed it on Amazon Prime last Sunday night and my wife and I watched it. Neither of us liked it. Which will probably mean it will be a blazing hit.

For instance, the new title for the film – it was originally called Lapham Rising before the pandemic hit – was now changed, inaccurately, to Angry Neighbors. I say inaccurately because there’s only one fellow in the film who is angry about things.The other neighbors, the real estate broker, the construction company owner and so forth are in the movie very pleased with this homage to greed, since they financially benefit from its construction. It should have correctly been called Angry Neighbor, since there is just this one. But that would not sell theater tickets, I suppose.

Before I get to the meat of this film and what we liked and didn’t like, I should pass along a scene which was written as the opening scene in Rosenblatt’s book and which I consider a masterpiece. Was it to be included in the movie? Yup. And was it? Yup.

In the opening scene in the book it’s a sunny Saturday morning on Georgica Pond and, as she does every morning at that hour, local real estate broker Kathy Polite appears alongside one of the other grand homes on that pond, walks across its lawn and down to the end of a dock, stops, smiles, then slowly removes all her clothes, one by one, until finally naked, she dives smartly into the pond to start her day.

Thus does Miss Polite (pronounced Po-leet as in “Elite”) market herself to all the wealthy folks living by the pond who watch her while pretending not to. She will be your favorite real estate broker.

And from that opening, in the movie, the whole things falls apart, at least in my view. But a lot of my objections are probably irrelevant. For example, we all know what Main Street Southampton looks like. This movie was made in a small town in northern Minnesota. (Southampton is very, very expensive to film in). Excelsior, Minnesota looks nothing like the Hamptons. But moviegoers probably won’t notice.

Another thing is that the mansion under construction next door to the novelist, actually built, or a façade of it actually built, is rather small potatoes. Other than the noise of construction bothering the neighbor, it would not stand out whatsoever alongside hundreds of other homes you can see in the Hamptons today. Outrageous it isn’t.

Other problems with the movie seem to me to have been caused by the fact that the film, halfway through the shooting, was stopped by the pandemic and abandoned. Then two years later it was restarted with a new name, a new director and, well, a screenplay by new writers who are, in my opinion, just awful.

It is presented as a comedy. Nothing was particularly funny. The dialogue was awkward, the characters poorly developed, and the outrageousness of the rich is presented as if they are all like this, caught up in who can build bigger, bigger and biggest. (Some rich are like that. Most, no.)

These celebrated actors do their best with this awful script. But the film trudges along with nothing really coming of it other than this retired novelist occasionally hinting he has a plan, and then, well, at the end, he executes it.

I won’t give it away. But let me quote from another viewer who posted an online review.

“The build up was strong…But, the ending was so anti-climactic, poorly scripted… with no true resolve, plot holes, and confusion. … (And) the main plot device wasn’t even important to the film at all.” It got one star.

Angry Neighbors is in theaters now and also streaming on Amazon and YouTube for an outlandish jaw-dropping er, 6 bucks.

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