I still haven’t reviewed this. Huh. Well, I’ll knock this one out quickly. Neighbors is a funny movie, and in a few choice moments, it’s legitimately thoughtful. It makes some lame choices which undermine its subversive quality, and Seth Rogen really needs to find a new shtick (hopefully The Interview will help with that), but on the whole, it’s still extremely enjoyable, and if nothing else, it proves Zac Efron can act when he wants to.
The plot is pretty basic. 30-somethings Mac Radner (Rogen) and his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) have lost some of their edge, having recently become parents, but they still fancy themselves as being relatively hip. When the Delta Psi Beta fraternity, led by Teddy (Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco), move in next door, the Radners ask them to watch the noise, which Teddy readily agrees to, provided that they contact him before they call the police. Later, the Radners join in a DPB party and all seems to be hunky-dory.
But one night, when the noise gets out of hand and Teddy fails to answer his phone, Mac calls the police, and Teddy, stung by what he considers a betrayal, becomes increasingly standoffish with the Radners, and each side gradually ups the ante of the feud, which ultimately involves turning Teddy and Pete–and Mac and Kelly–against each other, until all is resolved at an end-of-the-year rager.
As a situational comedy, the focus here is on gags, specifically those involving the increasing madness of the feud, in which neither part is innocent or even admirable–wherein lies one of the film’s core weaknesses. The gags themselves are generally hysterical, from the homemade dildos the DPB brothers create from their own members, or the Radners’ plot to make Pete sleep with Teddy’s girlfriend. I laughed a great deal throughout most of the film.
But in the last act, it falters by, intentionally or not, asserting a sort of moral status quo. If anything, the Radners are even less sympathetic than the frat brothers; Mac calls the police rather than contact Teddy in person, and tries to pretend he didn’t call them when questioned by an officer. Later, when their attempts to get the frat shut down by the university fail, Mac smashes a sewage pipe and floods the basement of the DPB house, a destructive act which he is never even called on to atone for. And yet, in the end–shock of shocks–the Radners gain the upper hand and are able to get the DPB branch suspended, and return to a happy marriage and parenthood. Mac even reconciles with Teddy at the end, basically coming out completely on top.
Now, maybe–just maybe–screenwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien were trying to be doubly subversive by showing that the nuclear family pitted against the youth can be as awful, if not more so, and still “win”…but I have my doubts about that. That Mac and Teddy reconcile at the end, that Mac and Kelly’s marriage is just as strong as it was before, and their station in life totally unchallenged–they no longer wish to live the wild life that their friends do–suggests that the film’s ultimate message is either, the grown-ups will win and the young should get used to it until they grow up, or, the nuclear family is ultimately the bedrock of society and should not be undermined.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it. It’s just a raunchy farce, after all. But there are other moments here which push it into the ***½ range, moments like the confrontation between Teddy and Pete, where Pete argues that frat life is fun but ultimately meaningless in the greater scheme of things–a concept which Teddy, who is so devoted to DPB, can hardly comprehend. It’s one of the more thoughtful and complex scenes I’ve seen in a film of this kind, and had the film gone a little deeper into its characters thus, it might have been borderline great.
Nicholas Stoller’s direction is quite efficient (some of the party sequences are particularly well-shot), and the script is strong, but it’s the performances which really make it click.
Zac Efron is yet another actor, like Channing Tatum or Robert Pattinson, whom I once dismissed as a lightweight, but who proves himself capable of a fine performance, given the right material. He skillfully toes the line between cockiness and affability, preventing Teddy from becoming a run-of-the-mill bro and showing the insecurity at his core which provokes his bluster. He allows you to like Teddy without overlooking his essential immaturity. And Franco is no less strong, both as a smarmy toadie and as a baffled, and ultimately contrite compadre.
Rogen, however, is still doing the same awkward-cool, scruffy-Everyman bit he did in Knocked Up, and it’s beginning to get old. As I recall, at one point Pete suggests Teddy dislikes Mac because he fears growing up to be like him, and maybe I’m the same way (though I was certainly never a frat boy), but really, Mac just comes off as kind of a dick. I’ve grown weary of what I call the Age of Awkwardness–where so much revolves around people being awkward, tongue-tied, etc.–and Rogen at his worst embodies it. It’s not that he’s terrible, it’s just…I didn’t like him here. He did not endear Mac to me.
Byrne, on the other hand, is pretty good, slyly showing the depths to which Kelly descends to get her revenge against DPB. She’s fun. Honestly, had she been the primary protagonist, with Mac taking a backseat, I probably would’ve liked it more.
Still, I liked it. I really did, and most probably won’t notice or care about the issues I had with it. I’d still say go with 22 Jump Street for a good summer comedy, but Neighbors should satisfy in a pinch.