Neighbors (2014) / Comedy
aka Bad Neighbours
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout
Running Time: 96 min.
Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Screenplay: Andrew Cohen, Brendan O'Brien
Review published May 3, 2014
Seth Rogen (This is the End, The Guilt Trip) goes to the opposite end of the spectrum by playing the responsible (sorta) adult in Neighbors, which could be called Project X meets, well, 1981's Neighbors. Rogen's Mac is married to sweetheart Kelly (Byrne, Insidious: Chapter 2), and after going into debt to achieve it, they're settled into suburban bliss with their newborn baby girl, Stella. The blissful existence comes to an end when a college fraternity, led by the roguishly devil-may-care Teddy (Efron, That Awkward Moment), decides to buy the house next door, and their aim is to be biggest, baddest party frat in their vaunted existence as the party brotherhood. Though these neighbors start off in friendly fashion, unfortunately, the two lifestyles can't co-exist, and it becomes a battle of wills to get the frat to keep the noise down so the young couple can raise their child in a safe and peaceful environment.
Judd Apatow crony Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) directs this sporadically funny raunch-fest that surprises with some genuinely poignant moments in between all of the rampant debauchery. The film sets up its theme early on with a scene of coital action between the married couple that keeps getting interrupted by the sight of their curious baby, which ends up being a mood-killer. But they're determined to not become the married couple who've grown up and lost their initial spark. It's a key moment that presents their motivation for doing what they do the rest of the film, culminating in a sweet moment in which they realize that there's nothing to fear about settling down to familiar ways.
Rogen's Mac gets to join in on the partying, reliving his younger days by living it up with the college crowd, and Byrne's Kelly isn't a shrew out to keep him on a leash, as comedies so often portray women with children, and gets as down and dirty as Mac does in order to gain the upper hand on the frat boys. Rogen gives you what you like best about him -- a sweet teddy bear underneath the litany of dick jokes -- but Byrne, usually miscast when she appears in slapstick comedies that require a more natural comedienne, manages to actually hold her own this time out with a funny, balls-out performance that maintains her likeability throughout.
Neighbors is what I would refer to as a hit-and-miss comedy, but when it hits, it hits with a fair amount of jocular wallop, enough to garner a recommendation for fans of crass party comedies. The slapstick, while tending to become a bit unrealistic at times (jokes involving the frat surprising their neighbors with planted airbags seems like it should belong in a purely sight-gag comedy, which this is not) and some of the humor is of the let's-just-be-raunchy-just-because-we've-got-nothing-else variety, such as a late-act scene in which Mac and Teddy decide to fight each other with rubber dildoes the frat boys made out of their own 3D printer, or a ridiculous scene involving the urgent need to squeeze out breast milk from Kelly's bursting mammary glands (you can guess the punch line as soon as it begins).
Despite Stoller's penchant for forced humor, Neighbors should please those looking for a vulgar romp, and unlike Apatow's films, this one manages to not overstay its welcome by 30 minutes. Underneath it all, the themes of wishing one can stay young, popular, and carefree forever emerge, but with a maturity to realize that there can still be lots of fun to be had in all stages of life. For a mostly dumb, filthy comedy, its occasional wit is a welcome breath of fresh air.
©2014 Vince Leo