Every summer, there’s one broad R-rated comedy that takes everyone by surprise. Last year it was This is the End, the year before that Ted, and in 2011, Bridesmaids broke records and became a legitimate phenomenon. This summer’s only getting started but even with a slew of big comedies including A Million Ways to Die in the West, 22 Jump Street and Sex Tape still to come, it’s going to be pretty hard to beat the hilarity of Neighbors. Nicholas Stoller’s latest laugh-a-thon may not be his best (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) or his most romantic (The Five-Year Engagement) film but it’s easily his bawdiest. But what makes Neighbors such a memorable time is that beneath all the over-the-top bacchanalia and copious penis jokes is a comedy that reveals a remarkably deep level of character and heart.
Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne star as Mac and Kelly Radner, a 30-something couple with a cute toddler, a healthy sex life, and a heavy mortgage. Although the couple tries to keep up with the hyper-active, alcohol-fueled lifestyle of their 20’s, the burdens of parenthood, among other things, is beginning to take its toll. For example, they spend all day meticulously planning an evening of partying with their recently single friends Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo) only to pass out from exhaustion as they get ready to leave the house.
One day, a moving truck pulls up in front of the vacant house next door, unloading a hoard of frat boys led by Teddy (Zac Efron), Pete (Dave Franco) and Scoonie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Initially, Mac and Kelly see the guys at Delta Psi Beta as an opportunity to re-invigorate their youthful impulses and wild college days without many of the risks (they live right next door!). They even drink, do drugs and have intelligent debates about Batman with Teddy and Pete.
But their honeymoon with their 20-something neighbors comes to an abrupt end after the parties seem to never end. Awkward requests to “keep it down” turns to quiet grumbling which in turn leads to arguments. When the arguments don’t curb matters, the cops enter the fray. And well… if you’ve seen the trailers, you know what happens next! The situation turns into an all out WAR, with each side trading progressively dangerous (and hilarious) pranks at the other’s expense.
A decade ago, the role of the fraternity party monster could have have been Rogen’s for the keeping (see Knocked Up, Pineapple Express) so it’s a bit startling at first to see him play a responsible dad. But he makes a surprisingly sweet and responsible parent proving that he’s come a long way since Knocked Up. What’s more, his chemistry with Byrne is so good that you believe and identify with the couple’s hardships – be it the fraternity or the mortgage payments.
As good as Rogen is, it’s Byrne who takes the film’s MVP honors. The Australian actress has shown promising chops in serious dramas like Damages, but her scene-stealing work here, Stoller’s Get Him to the Greek as well as Bridesmaids unveils her natural gift for comedy. Her deadpan delivery, facial expressions and “awkward cool” persona are the perfect ying to Rogen’s foul mouthed pot-head. I’d even venture to say she’s wilder than him. Efron may not steal Byrne’s thunder but he’s clearly relishing the opportunity playing the dim-witted, arrogant and near-psychotic Teddy. The role allows him to play up his pretty-boy persona but also to bring it all crashing down with a jackhammer, especially during the movie’s darker moments.
Neighbors is not without faults. Four movies into his directorial career, Stoller’s prowess at creating memorable visuals leaves a lot to be desired. The script by Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien could have used some tightening and freshening up—how many times do we have to watch a slow-motion montage of two uncool people pretending to be cool as a hip hop song plays?
These are minor grievances though because for most of its jovial running time, Neighbors takes a one joke premise and turns it into fodder for 100 clever ones. It succeeds as a witty fraternity comedy and a spot-on commentary on the price of adulthood all at once. It makes you laugh your butt off but also lets you know that you may want to party all night with your friends like you did in college but eventually, the only place you’ll want to enjoy is that comfy bed.
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Writer: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien
Principal Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Editing: Zene Baker
Cinematography: Brandon Trost
Music: Michael Andrews
Running time: 96 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Rating: R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout