(96 minutes, Rated R)
The first great R-rated comedy of the year, Neighbors tells the ‘tried and true’ tale of a college fraternity’s fight against the ‘adults’ who want to get rid of them. However, this self-aware ‘bro movie’ turns the genre on its head because it causes the audience to question both sides of the equation. Yes, the fraternity are the villains of the picture, but they do not embody the evil fraternity cliché, which is evident in most college flicks; and the adult neighbors, played by Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen, make questionable decisions that make them as or more childish than their supposed rivals. While this is far from a character driven movie, it establishes a proper story arch for both sides of the fight. But lets not forget that at its core it is a vulgar comedic take on the college system: and coming from a non-squeamish person, Neighbors is one of the most explicit films I have seen in quite some time, which works to its benefit.
With that said, the picture survives on the shoulders of its leads and both sides have engaging leaders. Both Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are perfect as the young married couple, Mac and Kelly: whose constant attempt to relive their glory days clashes with their responsibilities as parents. And even though Seth Rogen is essentially playing himself, the rapport between the two makes it seem like they have been together for years: which makes this Rogen’s best role since Knocked Up. Furthermore, Byrne lights up the screen as the seemingly bubbly mother who becomes dark and twisted in an instant; the way she creepily manipulates the fraternity gives her character a depth that prevents her from being another ‘throwaway wife character.’ And finally Zac Efron, who has been attempting to reinvent his ‘cookie cutter Disney image,’ perfectly portrays the vulgar President of Delta Psi, Teddy; personally, I have never seen Zac Efron ooze this much charisma and Neighbors forces me to reconsider my views on what I thought was an overrated actor.
However, a clear weakness of the picture is the under utilization of the supporting characters. For instance, Christopher Mintz-Plasse has a role that can only be described as a cameo; his character Scoonie mostly stands in the background and follows Teddy. Yes, he has a funny running gag throughout, but his limited screentime feels like the result of Neighbors’ brisk 96 minute pace, which means that a lot of Plasse’s scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. For instance, real life couple, Nick Offerman and Megan Mullaly, had a scene as Scoonie’s parents that were reportedly edited out.
On the other hand, Dave Franco, who plays Teddy’s best friend Pete, has a much larger role: yet he does nothing but be the counterpoint to the vulgar fraternity president. Yes, I understand that Teddy is dumb and Pete is a genius, but besides the De Niro party scene, which was ruined in the trailer, the movie wastes a very good comedic actor. However, not all of the secondary roles are under-developed; Mac’s best friend Jimmy, who is played by MADtv-alum Ike Barinholtz delivers some of the best parts of the flick. His scenes are vulgar and shocking, but at the same time, are memorable in a movie with some great comedic performances. Finally, the scattered cameos are worth the price of admission alone; the flashback montage plays as an introduction to the ‘who’s who’ of comedians, which indicates the talent level involved in the making of Neighbors.
Now as previously stated, Neighbors seems to glorify the ‘bro culture,’ but its ‘self-aware’ jokes question the very foundation of the fraternity ideology: this helps Neighbors be an atypical frat picture. On top of this, the constant reminder of an impending graduation looms over Teddy and seemingly drives the character to the point of insanity: which, at times, forces Efron to uncomfortably toe the line between flawed character and creepy villain. For instance, Teddy’s nice guy charm blends with what could have been a sadistic character; yet, the writers, Judd Apatow veterans Andrew Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, perfectly remind the viewers why the audience liked Teddy in the first place. And the same goes for the supposed heroes, Mac and Kelly; the viewers constantly question their loyalty to their cause. Yet in the end, the perfectly written story arches give redemption to all three characters: and the ending ties everything into a ‘neat little bow.’
Furthermore, though one can tell that the picture is ad-libbed; the intensification of the story gets perfectly formatted by the writers. Yes, like any good ‘prank movie,’ the pranks have to escalate in order to keep the viewer interested; what starts off as extra beer cans in their front yard leads to a fiery conclusion that needs to be seen to believe. And for the most part, one has to commend the writers for their ability to write a cohesive story that would not suffer from Rogen’s trademarked ad-libbing. Unfortunately, the trailers ruined a lot of the jokes, which affects the overall viewing experience; but Neighbors is able to have enough grotesque surprises to somewhat silence this feeling.
With that said, this picture had a lot of moving parts; the huge cast, ad-libbing, and ‘tried and true plot’ could have resulted in a failure of epic proportions. But for the most part, Nicholas Stoller is able to hold this picture together. Though I was not a fan of Get Him to the Greek, Forgetting Sarah Marshall remains one of my favorite comedies of the last decade: which means I was excited to see what he did with Neighbors. Now I must say that like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Nicholas Stoller’s direction here is basic; minus a few cases, comedies have never been known for their innovative shots. Yet, the director did add some cool features to aid his seemingly bland vision; for instance, Teddy’s drug ‘freak-out’ scene highlights some of the already cool party imagery. On top of this, Stoller’s choices, including editing and music selections, mesh perfectly to create the self aware ‘bro tone:’ even though some of it could be considered cliché, the previously mentioned jabs at the frat culture enhance what could have been an ‘everyday comedy.’
Finally, the quick and brisk pace is almost perfect; until the ending, there is never a dull moment. With that said, the ending suffered from ‘Return of the King-syndrome;’ Neighbors had several endings, which makes some of the final scenes pointless. I understand that in the final ten minutes they are attempting to get a few laughs out of the audience, but the picture was neatly wrapped up at the 85-minute mark. So the final few scenes seemed to lag and hinder what could have been a perfectly paced film.
All in all, this enjoyable flick turns out to be the first great comedy of the year. The R-rated nature perfectly mixes with the adult storyline of growing up; and as a recent college graduate, this blatant theme of adulthood shows that Neighbors separates itself from the average college yarn. But at its core, the Rogen and Efron vehicle is a vulgar comedy that intends to shock the viewer, while turning the genre on its head. Perhaps this is the most explicit comedy in recent years, but that does not hinder the laughs or its overall message.