Neighbors (United States, 2014)

May 08, 2014
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Neighbors Poster

Neighbors contains many of the qualities that make raunchy, profane comedies a popular commodity: sex, T&A, drugs, a barrage of four-letter words, and slapstick of the broadest kind. At first glance, one might be tempted to lump Neighbors into the same category as The Hangover, Bridesmaids, and other, similar R-rated fare. However, while there's no denying the film's "mature" credentials, there's an element of truth and honesty to some of the humor that is both surprising and refreshing. There's no doubt the filmmakers want to make us laugh but, in doing so, they also touch upon a theme that many older viewers will find familiar: the rite of passage from a college party animal to the responsible role of a father or mother.

The movie inhabits similar territory as an earlier Seth Rogen effort, Knocked Up, in that it postulates what happens to a stoner/off-the-wall guy who is forced to face the realities of fatherhood. Life, as he knew it, is over, but something new has taken its place. All-night partying has been replaced by a desperation not to wake his daughter so he can get a good night's sleep. The concerns of his wife, Kelly (Rose Byrne), are no longer how she looks or what she wears; they're about pumping milk so her engorged breasts don't explode. (There's one very funny scene built around this.) Neighbors pushes the envelope for comedic effect but it never loses sight of the essential underlying truths.

Mac (Rogen) and Kelly are enjoying the American dream in a nice suburban house that's missing only the white picket fence. They're adjusting to life with their baby when life throws them a curveball. The house next door goes up for sale and is sold to the Delta Psi Beta Fraternity. At first, the two leaders, Teddy (Zac Efron), and Pete (Dave Franco), appear interested in fostering neighborhood amity, going so far as to invite Mac and Kelly to attend one of their parties. But, when things get out of hand and Mac calls the cops, Teddy takes off the gloves and the situation devolves into an all-out-war.

Most of the film's best humor comes from the engagements between Mac and the Fraternity. Director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) understands the concept of comedic timing. One scene in particular, involving a trampoline, delivers a double barrel of laughs mostly because of the way it was filmed. The movie mostly eschews the "gross-out" factor that has become commonplace in raunchy films. Body fluids are kept to a minimum. There's no projectile vomiting (the one instance in which someone throws up is relatively low key) or semen. And, although there's a young child at the heart of the narrative, the movie is tactful when using her for comedic purposes and avoids some standard gags. (No baby poop scene!)

Seth Rogen is perfectly cast as the father who yearns for his frat boy years before discovering that may not be what he wants after all. The character is a combination of the one Rogen played in Knocked Up and Will Ferrell's Old School protagonist. Rogen and Rose Byrne share nice chemistry and their relationship is believable as a couple who are still "into" each other despite having passed beyond the Honeymoon phase of their relationship. Zac Efron, continuing his attempts to tarnish a previously squeaky clean image, is a credible bad guy.

Too many comedies have become routine and predictable - qualities that don't enhance the potential for good laughs. Neighbors retains sufficient spontaneity to give it a fresh, lively feel. There's no doubt that it earns the R rating - this isn't for kids or (most) grandparents - but the laughter the movie generates validates the vulgarity. Neighbors is probably the best comedy of the year so far and offers what too many of its fellows fail to provide: edgy humor with a slice of intelligence and insight.

Neighbors (United States, 2014)

Director: Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo
Screenplay: Andrew Jay Cohen & Brendan O'Brien
Cinematography: Brandon Trost
Music: Michael Andrews
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:36
U.S. Release Date: 2014-05-09
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Content, Nudity, Drugs)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1