Director: Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco
Rating: 4 out of 5 airbags. This movie isn’t revolutionary or even necessarily all that original in its raunchy-humor aims, and the plot is thin and unevenly paced at times. However, this film is extremely successful anyway, and consistently entertaining in its execution mainly thanks to its talented cast, who deliver even the most outrageous of the film’s laugh-out-loud moments with sincerity. Efron in particular gives a standout performance that really gives the film its sparse moments of depth– if you peel back that somewhat thin (but still hilarious) layer of gags, vulgarity, and shenanigans, the story that unfolds is really one about adults who are in denial about their own fleeting youth, while the youth are in denial about their own impending adulthood.
Neighbors stars Rogen as Mac and Byrne as Kelly– new parents to an adorable baby named Stella. Right from the get-go they seem conflicted– simultaneously loving and loathing parenthood and the exhaustion and isolation it causes them to experience. Next thing we know, a fraternity is moving into the house next door. Efron plays Teddy, the president of the frat. At first, things seem cordial enough– Mac and Kelly even party with them and try to seem “cool” in the hopes that the frat will respect them enough to “keep it down.” Suffice it to say that things don’t go so well, and their rivalry only builds from there.
The film is in no way short on laughs; in fact, at moments, it even edges toward the precipice in terms of trying just a little too hard. But the performances save the film from ever hitting that point. Byrne is underrated as a comic actress but proves herself as much as she can with what she’s given here; I thought it was particularly subversive of genre norms and really quite meta when she and Rogen argue about how they cannot both be the Kevin James of their marriage, noting that Kelly is not the typical nagging wife of sitcoms; she and Rogen are really well-suited as a pair here, I’d say, in many respects. Plus, in a moment of brutal physical comedy between her and Rogen which I will not divulge further details about, she makes us laugh and cringe all at the same time.
Rogen’s performance is also noteworthy, because in the character of young dad Mac, I think he steps out of his comfort zone just enough to make us feel like we’re seeing a new side of him while also remaining true to his silly-stoner form. He fluctuates between the two personalities seamlessly, proving again the awkward stage of life he and Kelly find themselves in, yearning for a time before they were parents while also ultimately finding that that’s not truly what they want at all.
I think the fact that the frat leads them to this discovery was subtle and implicit, perhaps more so than it could or should have been, but for what it’s worth, I don’t think the film was concerned with being smart or meaningful in those ways. That the film dabbles in larger themes even slightly or jokingly while maintaining a comedic edge that takes precedence is still a feat.
Efron though, as I said, is better than I think I was expecting him to be. He’s really funny, but in a way that off-sets Rogen’s humor, and not just because Efron is playing up his obvious attractiveness in contrast. He perfectly embodies, and thereby sort of makes fun of, frat bro sensibilities, but he is also so genuine in doing so, that the character never feels too much like a caricature.
So, beyond the performances, I can’t truly articulate why this film works. I can pick out its flaws, as I already have, but felt they were secondary, because I was simply too busy laughing. Even if the film is following a formula of tit for tat hijkinks, it is following it well, and the result may be simple and familiar but it is also hilarious nonetheless. The dialogue and chemistry between the actors worked tremendously, and as much as a part of me wishes certain aspects of the film’s humanity were drawn out a little more as opposed to serving merely as fuel for the blazing comedic fire which the film burns so brightly, I cannot argue that the film suffered by glossing over those things as it did.