Bawdy Neighbors Worth Getting to Know
Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) couldn’t be happier. They’ve bought the perfect house. They’ve had what they know is the perfect baby, their darling little girl Stella. They live in the perfect suburban neighborhood. If they’re not the same free-spirited happy-go-lucky party animals they were back in college that’s perfectly okay, a life of familial bliss already starting to embrace them within its loving arms (or so they hope).
But when the empty house next door is bought by the Delta Psi Beta fraternity, Mac and Kelly worry things are going to spiral out of control. Still, the frat’s president Teddy (Zac Efron) seems like a nice enough guy, while V.P. Pete (Dave Franco) assures them all will be fine as long as everyone is willing to communicate with one another like adults and not involve the local police. With all that being the case, with so much honesty and friendship being bandied back and forth, what could possibly go wrong?
Neighbors, not to be confused with the 1981 John Belushi / Dan Aykroyd movie of the same name, is shockingly terrific. A comedy of errors, friendship and matrimonial love, Neighbors is a gross-out R-rated affair that still isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve. It refreshingly puts the relationship between Mac and Kelly first focusing the majority of its energy on making their evolution and transformation resonate and mean something, allowing them to have natural and honest reactions to everything happening no matter how crazy or unbelievable they become.
And goodness do they get extreme. The nastiness that ends up taking place is as ribald, bawdy and as ghastly as it comes, an escalating series of pranks gone horribly off the rails affecting both Radners and the fraternity more or less equally. Teddy and company are compelled to make life miserable for Mac and Kelly after they feel they’ve been slighted by the pair. They, in return, keep coming up with ever more extreme ideas to get the Delta Psi Beta gang in trouble so they’ll hopefully lose their collegiate charter, bringing peace and quiet back to the neighborhood.
This could have been nothing more than a bunch of vignettes strung together with inelegant carelessness in hopes of being extreme for the sake of being extreme. It could have all become some wild, obnoxiously unfunny chore to sit through, almost as if the filmmakers were trying to construct the bastaradized lovechild of Project X and either of The Hangover sequels. The movie could have taken a wrong turn at any point the likes of which it never would have recovered from, making it a 90-minute descent into unwatchable excess so tedious there aren’t words to suitably describe what sitting through it all to the end would have been like.
But this does not come to pass. Rogen and Byrne have divine chemistry. Franco is a charming chameleon who steals scenes with sneakily subtle ease. As for Efron, in many ways he’s the film’s ace in the hole, channeling his inner smarmy egotistical hellion completely unafraid to make himself look like a detestable creep yet at the same time revealing an inner insecurity tinged with regret that’s ultimately a tiny bit endearing. The group works remarkably well together, their respective characters transitioning from moment to moment and scene to scene nicely.
Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien have put together an economical, marvelously developed script devoid of fat and free (most of the time, not completely) of excess. As for director Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek, The Five-Year Engagement), this is arguably his best work yet, the filmmaker keeping a firm grasp on the proceedings start to finish never allowing almost anything that transpires to feel stilted, weak or noticeably out of place. But more importantly than any of that is the fact Neighbors made me laugh, a lot, the humor almost always coming from a place of truth that’s consistently engaging. The movie is a good one, and as the first big budget summer comedy to be unveiled it’s set a moderately high bar the rest of its ilk are going to have to work pretty hard to surpass.
Film Rating: 3 out of 4
Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle