Weiss, Rob: Director Profile

Rob Weiss's Amongst Friends (1993) is a kind of a Jewish Mean Streets, except that the protagonists are not Scorsese's lowlifes, but upper-middle class youngsters who choose crime as a way of life. Unlike their peers, who went to college, they decided to stay home. Weiss set his tale of Generation-X angst near the Five Town area and Hewlett Harbor, not far from where he was born, Baldwin, Long Island. He wrote the script for Amongst Friends quickly, in two weeks, later boasting to the press, “I had never written anything before in my entire life.”

Andy, Trevor and Billy have been inseparable friends, until Trevor got thrown into jail for selling drugs in a deal all three were involved. When he returns to Cedarhurst, 3 years later, it's not exactly a home-coming. During his absence, Billy has become a wiseguy with Andy as his lackey, and he's dating Laura, who turned her affection to him, while Trevor was gone. Trevor intends to stop by long enough to find Laura and take her with him.

Billy and Andy are engaged in small-time crime, but they have aspirations for the big league. Billy is goading his friends into taking big risks, but, desperate for a score of his own, Andy arranges for a drug deal which he plans to bankroll by robbing a nightclub. He persuades Trevor to get involved; the robbery is pulled off without a hitch, and the downpayment is delivered to a fast-talking duo. Unfortunately, the club robbed belongs to a tough, old-time gangster, Jack Trattner, who punishes the violators, forcing them to work for him until their debt is paid.

Jealous of Trevor's reunion with Laura and of the success in the heist with Andy, Billy makes plans to drive Trevor out of town. He arranges for a diamonds shipment to Trattner to be replaced with fakes, implicating Trevor in the deal. Things escalate and the moment of truth arrives in a final confrontation that ends with Andy's senseless death.

In a voice-over narration, Andy says: “My grandfather was a bookie to send my dad to Law School, and my dad made money so I could do whatever I wanted, and all that me, Trevor and Billy ever wanted was to be like my grandfather. We were ashamed of how easy we had it. We felt spoiled. We felt like pussies.” Weiss never makes clear why teenagers who have everything would turn to crime. Is it out of contempt for their parents Boredom Adventurism promised by crime life Nor does Amongst Friends illuminate the boys' stronger emotional bond with their grandparents. Weiss reportedly feared that elaborating on the inter-generational conflict would turn his film into a conventional family melodrama. There are other problems as well: The milieu lacks a distinctly Jewish flavor.

What is effective, however, is the portrayal of peer pressure in yet another story of camaraderie, loyalty and betrayal. Weiss' superficially sharp style clearly grabbed some viewers. “He's a stylist, a born storyteller,” declared Ira Deutchman, after picking up the film for Fine Line distribution. “This film twists conventions around and deals with a culture we've never seen on film before.” But the movie received mixed-to-negative reviews, all of which labelled Weiss a pale imitator of Scorsese. Echoing a number of critics, Peter Rainer wrote in the L.A. Times, “There are far worse models for a new director than Mean Streets, but Weiss misunderstands the nature of that film.”