Family vs. Frat
Who would have imagined we’d one day witness teen heart-throb Zac Efron share the screen with seasoned comedy actor Seth Rogen in a crude, foul-mouthed mainstream comedy; anything is possible in Hollywood ladies and gentlemen. Be that as it may, a steady stream of laughs await in the gleefully profane comedy Neighbors — titled Bad Neighbours in several countries — as the picture’s clever family-man-versus-fraternity-guy concept is solid enough to generate an array of witty gags and set pieces while startlingly giving us some insight into the human condition.
After giving birth to their first child, happily married couple, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) squander their life-long savings on a house in the suburbs where they plan to raise their daughter and begin a new chapter of their life together. Alas, the pair’s dreams of domestic tranquillity are swiftly shattered when a rowdy fraternity of brothers moves into the property next door. Despite the fact that Mac and Kelly attempt to reason with the egotistic fraternity president, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) — particularly in regards to keeping the noise level down — animosity grows between the neighbors which eventually leads to an unhealthy rivalry involving a chain of escalating pranks between one another, aimed at intimidation and submission.
Beneath the picture’s initial premise and tasteless antics lies its biggest triumph, a surprisingly intuitive look at growing up and the imminent changes that go hand-in-hand with getting older. In Neighbors, we understand that Mac inevitably wants Teddy to keep his late-night partying to a minimum; we also recognize that Mac is evidently afraid that — due to his requests — his younger neighbor might perceive him as a boring old fuddy-duddy. It’s interesting that the picture recognizes this very real issue of one’s personal struggle in terms of surrendering their carefree younger ideals in the name of adult pragmatism and uses this concern to its advantage. Many 30-something’s today grapple letting go of their youthful habits in order to make that lifestyle shift involved with the increased responsibility of adulthood and it’s refreshing to see this reality depicted in a Seth Rogen comedy of all places.
Direction by Nicholas Stoller, Get Him to the Greek (2010), and scripted by Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, Neighbors is fast paced and overly frantic but sadly doesn’t sport many laugh-out-loud moments — more like a couple of big laughs and a number of small chuckles here and there — oddly enough, the film’s best moments arise thanks to some great improvisation by its able cast. A child of the Pineapple Express (2008) train, Neighbors regrettably embraces the inevitable pre-requisites that accompany the current trend of successful similar titles — weed, male genitalia, grotesque bodily changes, dildos — you know the deal. Hopefully well-written humor will one day replace the slew of gross-out gags plaguing most comedy flicks of late.
Regardless, the picture’s winning cast and their amazing chemistry keeps this sharp concept from outstaying its welcome. Together, leads Rogen and Byrne make a dynamite duo. As always Seth Rogen, This Is The End (2013), has an amusingly awkward screen presence as the goofy protagonist and gels well with his numerous co-stars. On the other hand, Sydney born actress Rose Byrne, Get Him to the Greek (2010), makes a worthy foil to Rogen’s character Mac as his potty-mouth partner Kelly. Here Byrne not only keeps up with Rogen’s comic timing, but occasionally steals the spotlight while exhibiting her obvious grownup sex appeal, barely evident in many of her other works. It’s also worth mentioning Ike Barinholtz, Disaster Movie (2008), who plays the couple’s weird friend Jimmy, quite possibly the most eccentric role seen in cinema this year.
Desperate to put some distance between his High School Musical (2006) persona, Zac Efron — like so many others — has worked tirelessly to separate himself from his Troy Bolton character, and continues to do so here by playing the exact opposite — an overconfident fraternity president who swears effortlessly and partakes in juvenile antics. To my surprise Efron demonstrates competent acting skills exposing his hidden comic talent while exploiting his perfectly sculpted hairless torso. Although Efron’s Teddy is rather smug and sometimes nasty, Efron somehow manages to retain Teddy’s likability by the film’s conclusion, proving that he may have found his true calling as a comedic star. Dave Franco, 21 Jump Street (2012), seems to be going through the motions as Efron’s fraternity brother Pete and reaches his fanatical height when professing his love for his brother in the picture’s final act. It’s always refreshing to see Friends star Lisa Kudrow on the big screen — she plays against typecast here as the firm Dean Carol Gladstone — and Rogen regular Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad (2007), is up to his usual antics as fraternity brother Scoonie.
An admirable premise, but scattershot pacing at best, director Nicholas Stoller does an acceptable job maintaining this strange mix of filthy humor, visual pranks and occasional tenderness whilst the gifted cast share appealing comic chemistry when onscreen. At the end of the day, Neighbors is simple throwaway entertainment at best, it’s enjoyable enough for a night of fun but won’t leave any long lasting impressions.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Neighbors is released through Universal Pictures Australia