Neighbors (Universal Pictures, R)

Neighbors 75

In the end, Neighbors hits what it shoots for: a funny, if forgettable, Hollywood comedy.

 


 

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Neighbors director Nicholas Stoller and star Seth Rogen first worked together 13 years ago, when Stoller was 25 and Rogen 19, when they were both writing for the one-season wonder TV show Undeclared, in which Rogen was also a member of the ensemble cast. Two of the best episodes of Undeclared follow the character Steven (Jay Baruchel) as he joins a frat and goes through Hell Week, and eventually Rogen’s Ron (among others) convinces Steven to drop out of the frat and subsequently get revenge on the fratboys who were hazing him. So, it kind of makes sense that now Stoller and Rogen are somewhat more grown up, they’re making a comedy together where family man Mac Radner (Rogen) is alarmed to learn that a frat has moved into the vacant house next door, and he and his wife, Kelly (Rose Byrne), seek to drive them out. Anti-frat humor for the win!

Actually, I would expect that most frat members who see this film won’t be offended at their portrayal in it; Neighbors leaves it up to you to interpret how anti-frat the movie actually is. A lot of this comes from the fact that the president of the frat is Teddy (Zac Efron), a charismatic fellow who, while perhaps unaware of the reality of having a newborn baby as the Radners do, seems to be a genuinely decent guy, at least most of the time. For example, the movie doesn’t skirt the hazing topic altogether, but it is presented a little lighter than it was even in something as light as Old School.

Because of both Mac and Teddy’s basic kindness and want to get along, they start off the film forming a tenuous friendship, which quickly goes south when Mac, kept awake late at night by a frat party, can’t get Teddy on the phone to ask him to keep it down, and so calls the cops instead. Teddy doesn’t take to this well, and most of the rest of the film then is an escalation where one is trying to get the better of the other.

Working from a screenplay by newcomers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, Neighbors has its share of laughs written right in there, but most of what makes it work is the cast. Though I don’t always like everything he does, I’ve been a fan of Rogen’s since his Freaks & Geeks days and am surprised to find how believable he is here as a young father trying and failing to maintain his coolness and relevance with the younger generation. Byrne has had a big following in large swaths of the world for over a decade now, but until now I’ve never been terribly impressed with her; here, though, she’s as charismatic, sympathetic, and funny as she needs to be. Efron continues to impress me with his choosing of either good projects or working with good directors (though, sadly, he has yet to land a good project with a good director—look how poorly Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy or Ramin Bahrani’s At Any Price turned out). Rounding out the most memorable frat boys are Dave Franco as second-in-command and Teddy’s bff Pete (Dave is James’ little brother, most known at this point for his role in 21 Jump Street, and here never having looked more like Dave), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin from Superbad) as the well-endowed Scoonie, and the funny Jerrod Carmichel in his first major film role as the goofball Garf. Rogen and Byrne aside, the Radner family only has one more member—their baby Stella, played by Elise and Stella Vargas, who have to be in the running for the most cooperative babies in the history of filmmaking.

In the end, Neighbors hits what it shoots for: a funny, if forgettable, Hollywood comedy. A low aim, perhaps, but it succeeds. I’m glad to see that the trend of reliably decent Hollywood comedies coming out once every couple of months has yet to abate. | Pete Timmermann

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