‘Neighbors:’ Liberté, Efronité, Fraternité

For reasons unbeknownst to me, I had problems with both Seth Rogen and Zac Efron. Nothing deep-seated or specific, just a general, vague, “not my cup of tea” feeling when either popped up on screen. But Neighbors looked harmless, and there hadn’t been a big, successful movie comedy that was actually liked by everybody since Bridesmaids, so it was about time. Not that Neighbors will stir up any Oscar nominations, but it’s pure fun, unoffensive not in the sense that it avoids offensive language or ideas, but in the way that big, broad comedy is. It has a specific goal: to make you laugh, and literally nothing else. It doesn’t try to be anything but silly, over-the-top, and hilarious. And it is. Neither Seth Rogen nor Zac Efron bothered me. In fact, both are quite good.

Rogen and Rose Byrne play the parents all 20-somethings hope to become: still full of humor and still at least aware of all the social activity they’re missing out on instead of resigned to the depressing lives of parents who have given up on trying to do the things that make them happy. They have poured all of their money into a nice house that they inhabit with their new family, the two of them and their adorable baby daughter, Stella. They are ostensibly “adults.” Rogen’s Mac has a full-time, gray cubicle office job, and Byne’s Kelly is bored to death staying home with the baby. When a frat, led by Efron’s Teddy, moves in next door, the new-parents-but-still-cool-people-they-swear decide to casually, nonchalantly, just tell the guys to “keep it down.” And thus begins the war. 

Delta Psi throws ragers, replete with drugs and dancing and fireworks, and when Mac and Kelly, at their wits’ end, call the police, Teddy gets his sweet, sweet revenge. To those who say, “the logic of the movie is off. How are they the only ones complaining about the noise?” I take my pointer finger, slowly place it on your stupid, stupid mouth, and say, “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” Realism is not the goal here. Just laugh. It’s funny. With a bevy of wonderful supporting roles played by the likes of Hannibal Burress, Ike Barinholtz, Lisa Kudrow, Carla Gallo, and Dave Franco (yes, in that order), it’s a great joke vessel, full of funnies, crude and gross and physical and witty. Rogen and Byrne are wonderful as parents who are at the edge of their sanity, exhausted and delirious but psyched to have something new to focus on. Byrne, particularly, shows that Bridesmaids wasn’t a fluke. She’s a great comedic actress and holds more than her own against Rogen, who at this point just gets away with the same stuff (albeit because it works). But seriously, Rose Byrne FTW. 

Efron too, shows up ready to play. What keeps this movie from being a total cliché is the characterization of the frat guys. Unlike oh, I don’t know, every movie from the 80’s, Delta Psi isn’t full of testosterone robots. It A – has a variety of types of guys, from the traditional buff idiots like Efron, to the large and in charge, to the meek and nerdy (played by Craig Roberts, the kid from Submarine). They are also not all completely mindless 100% of the time. Dave Franco’s Pete, the VP of the frat, is a smarty-pants architecture major whose priorities shift as graduation nears. Efron’s major “Aha! moment” comes when he, the ripped, untouchable president of Delta Psi, realizes this isn’t going to last forever and maybe, at some point, he should have gone to class. 

There’s a smidgen of heart but a lot of laughs. Directed by Nick Stoller, of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him To the Greek fame, Neighbors is even a little more straightforward, a little more of a standard, big, blockbuster comedy, and that is nearly impossible to say is a compliment these days, but that’s what I just did. 

Grade: B+

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