OK, I usually use quad posters anyway for these, but how could I not use the British version? They spell it with a U!
Over the last several years, it seems like every summer there is one break-out R-rated comedy. The Hangover, Bridesmaids, 40-Year-Old Virgin, American Pie, Ted… it may come early or it may come late, but there is almost always one. I would not be surprised if this year that hit was Neighbors.
This is not to say that Neighbors is as good as all of those aforementioned movies or even that it is as good as last year’s This is the End which involved some of the same people. However where that film required a lot of audience participation to get the most out of it, Neighbors should appeal to a very wide audience as it has an uncanny knack of reaching out to several types of people and it should largely please them all. It manages to be the kind of college frat comedy which has been cranked out since Animal House while also pulling in the audience which Judd Apatow found and exploited so well. Many post-college adults from their mid-20s to late-30s will identify with the new family headed by Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, who are coming to grips with the fact that they simply aren’t cool anymore (if they ever were in the first place.)
I had someone express doubts to me about seeing the film, thinking it was somehow a family movie. Rest assured, it is filthy. Zac Efron was already trying to distance himself from his Disney roots, though many of those efforts seemed from the outside to largely keep his persona intact and looked like a very slow, measured campaign. This will napalm that bridge. The fact that Orgazmo received an NC-17 rating and this movie didn’t is one more argument in my never-ending diatribe about the worthlessness of the MPAA’s ratings system.
The plot is actually decently structured and involves a couple newly adjusting to parenthood after putting all their money into a house. They obviously miss their old lives full of partying with their friends when they were perpetually exhausted for different reasons. Still, they seem mostly happy and are putting stock in the classic American dream, as it were. House, car, one-income household, kid…
Then the house next door is taken over by the kind of hard-partying, scheming, cliche frat that seems to exist only in movies, Suddenly their world is, to quote sitcom pitches that were old when Shakespeare was in diapers, turned upside down. While initial steps are taken to preserve the peace, eventually things erupt into all-out war between the parents and the frat, driven by its single-minded president played by Effron.
Nobody at all seeing this movie will think Rogen is breaking new ground. It feels like an extension of his character from Knocked-Up and, frankly, is that such a bad thing? He’s like that ratty hoodie that you don’t throw out because you know exactly what to expect from it. Byrne may surprise people a little bit with how much she throws herself into her role given there are some big ‘gross-out’ gags in the film and she’s involved with many of them. But after Bridesmaids it doesn’t seem like that big of a leap. Still, she really puts herself into the thick of it and keeps up with Rogen 100%. The big surprise is Efron. Is he funny? Not so much. But, and this is a big but, he shows an ability to let the other performers bounce off of him while not seeming completely like a straight man. The real head-turner is how dark he gets at times, dropping his bro mask and showing a person who has a simmering anger underneath.
It’s the dynamic between he and Rogen that really hits home as they are both in different stages of arrested development. Rogen has a desire to still be what he was when he was Efron’s age. He doesn’t want to be the guy that narcs, despite his responsibilities. While the movie takes pains to offer a decently balanced portrait, never showing either side to clearly be the ‘heroes’ of the piece, we’re obviously meant to side with the parents. The script cleverly uses an incident involving the baby to move things over to their side for good, despite the fact that they end up going too far themselves. War is hell, after all. Efron, meanwhile, is trying to make his mark and be enshrined forever in the trophy case of the fraternity. This is his attempt at immortality, knowing that there simply isn’t anything waiting for him once he finishes school and he becomes increasingly desperate and malicious with anything that stands in the way of him becoming a legend to be passed down in the annals of his brotherhood.
Another good aspect about Efron’s performance is that despite being provided a solid psychological motivation to make him more sympathetic, he never plays it up too much. He allows other members like Dave Franco and Christopher Mintz-Plasse to take some of that weight. Emphasis on ‘member.’ Franco seems to be channeling his brother at times with how weird his character can get, but I may just feel that way because I associate Franco the Elder with male genitalia so much at this point and there there is more of that in Neighbors than most comedies, even R-rated ones. Many of those jokes involve Mintz-Plasse who has very little to actually do and might have just shown up because he likes working with these guys.
The film provides several laugh-out loud moments and the fleeting bits of physical comedy serve as highlights. For some reason I think the editing feels off to me though. Quick pacing is demanded of most comedies, but sometimes things feel too breakneck for this kind of film with scenes jumping from one to the other fast enough to cause whiplash. In something like Naked Gun this is not a problem, but when a film is trying to establish an emotional connection like this one is, there may need to be a little more room to breath? I’m not an expert and maybe it will play better at home, but it was an initial impression. It could boil down to having a hard time establishing the passage of time. I am assuming it takes place over several months, but it feels like the whole thing may have happened in a week.
I would have a hard time saying Neighbors is a must-see comedy, but it is satisfying, funny and seriously messed up in spots. I think it will have a lot of rewatchability to it and you may as well see it before you hear about all the jokes from the people at work.
(Three and a half damns given out of five)