Mark Reviews Movies

Neighbors (2014)


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Nicholas Stoller

Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Halston Sage, Jerrod Carmichael, Craig Roberts, Hannibal Buress, Lisa Kudrow

MPAA Rating: R (for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout)

Running Time: 1:36

Release Date: 5/9/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 9, 2014

The generation gap is really a battle between whether it's worse to realize you're getting older or to actually get older, or so argues Neighbors, a very funny, especially crude, and surprisingly insightful comedy. On one side is a couple in their 30s who has just had a baby. They keep telling themselves that their days of youthful exuberance and excess aren't finished, despite all evidence to the contrary. On the other is a fraternity from the local college that has just moved into the house next door and whose members are smack in the middle of those lively days. At least one of them will do pretty much anything to avoid the fact that he will soon only have these carefree times as a memory.

The conflict between the two groups is simple: The frat boys want to party and loudly; the parents want their baby to sleep. Of course, the baby sleeps just fine on the night of the frat's arrival when the parents head next door to drink, dance, and do hallucinogenic mushrooms (They keep the baby monitor with them; after all, they're not completely irresponsible). It's almost as if the parents' investment in what the fraternity is doing has little to do with what they say it does.

Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) admit as much right up front. After seeing their new neighbors move into the house, they have to come up with a strategy for how they're going to approach the new neighbors with the request to "keep it down." The request itself becomes secondary to how they plan to present themselves. They can't be the hardnosed, killjoy old people with no sense of fun. They have to come across as the cool neighbors—the kind of people that maybe the members of the frat will want to be one day. Maybe the fraternity brothers could even get a glimpse of that kind of life, if only they were—maybe—to invite them over for a party one night.

They never really ask this outright, but we can sense the longing for at least one night of consequence-free frivolity just under the surface of their talk with Teddy (Zac Efron), the fraternity's president, and Pete (Dave Franco), Teddy's right-hand man and best friend. Mac and Kelly have already had one night out ruined after they decided to take the baby along to a club, only to pass out in the front hallway while trying to pack up everything their daughter might need—including, for a reason that probably only first-time parents would consider, her swing.

The couple is completely unprepared for how charming the fraternity brothers are, but they obviously have their own agenda: They have to keep their neighbors from calling the cops, lest they end up on probation, which would prevent them from being able to hold a big end-of-year party. That party is vital to Teddy, who stares longingly at the wall of photographs documenting the organization's questionable history (They created such sacred traditions as they toga party—when a production of Julius Caesar turned rowdy—and beer pong as well as one of less-important note: vomiting into a boot) and wants his own photo to be included.

They're all yearning for something they don't have. Mac and Kelly have lost it with time and the added responsibility of parenting. Teddy has yet to achieve it and is uncertain if he'll be able to. It all comes to a head when Mac and Kelly call the cops the night following their adventure at the house (Hannibal Buress is quite funny deadpanning his way through his two scenes as the officer on duty when the noise complaints are made). After that, it's war, as each party tries to get the other to move out of their home.

The screenplay Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien doesn't quite understand the concept of escalation, and the pranks each group perpetrates on the other come to a climax fairly quickly. There's a montage of the frat boys making life hell for Mac and Kelly (throwing trash on their yard, catching them in the middle of being "spontaneously" amorous, and their baby finding a condom on the yard, leading to a punch line of a doctor with the worst bedside manner imaginable), and eventually, Mac and Kelly try to get the guys booted by flooding the house. How they earn the money for repairs shows how vulgarly creative they can be.

It's the unexpected dynamic between the groups that leaves the biggest impression. The frat boys' pranks are rather ingenious, such as when they steal the airbags from the Radners' car and set them up as booby traps for Mac. Then there are Mac and Kelly, whose claims of trying to be responsible belie just how crazed for revenge they quickly become. Whatever pent-up frustration from the lack of freedom and self-gratification they might have in their new roles as parents is aimed at their sworn enemies. They rant and rave, fantasizing about how miserable they're going to make these kids.

Rogen and Byrne are quite good at capturing the manic turn of the characters, and Byrne is especially funny in how devious her character can be, particularly in one scene where she tries to get Pete and Teddy's girlfriend (Halston Sage) together by seducing them both (It's odd that Cohen and O'Brien follow that scene of empowerment with one that degrades Kelly). Efron is also consistently amusing as a guy who only understands one way of life.

The film's structure may be piecemeal (The big gags often come out of left field with little setup), but the desperate absurdity and absurd desperation of these characters carry it. This attention to their anxiety about their place in life means Neighbors is just as funny—possibly even funnier—in its less outrageous moments as it is in the showboating gags.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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