NEIGHBORS Review

Neighbors feels natural. For all its contrived plot set-ups that for no seemingly apparent reason allow a large, stereotypical fraternity to move off campus and into a typical suburban neighborhood where children play and senior citizens work in their gardens, it still feels completely natural. There is an honesty, an authenticity to the way in which the characters interact with one another and go about developing relationships with those around them and their changing worlds that make what is essentially an extended investigation into a premise rather than a full-fledged story work as well as it does. I'm a lover of comedy, whether that springs from a longing to not let go of adolescence (a theme explored in Neighbors) or simply because I've always felt a more inherently deep connection with those that make you laugh rather than those that deliver strong drama I am always excited to see what people (actors, directors, writers) have to offer in the comedic genre and while this genre will no doubt always be the most subjective it has retained somewhat of a reliability factor due to the specific groups of actors working within it over the past decade or so now. There were a few years between 2008's Pineapple Express and last summers This Is The End where it seemed Seth Rogen had seen his career pinnacle come and go, that he'd had his good run in Knocked Up, Superbad and Express while his next few broad efforts (Zack and Miri, Observe and Report, Funny People) were all somewhat underwhelming either critically or commercially which only caused him to reassess and go in a different direction, some of which worked (50/50) and some of which didn't (The Green Hornet). With his resurgence not only as a comedic actor, but as the writer and director of last years summer hit he has seemed to hit a comfortable stride that has allowed him to surround himself with the right people (new and old friends) and to make the kind of strong, raunchy comedies he was always meant to while continuously diversifying the types of stories he is telling and the kind of comedy he is conveying. I may be getting a little ahead of myself as this is his first effort since This is The End, but that is how confident I feel about Neighbors.

Pete (Dave Franco) and Teddy (Zac Efron) head up a fraternity that moves into a suburban neighborhood.
The aforementioned premise of the film is quite simple: A relatively young couple (they're going for early thirties) which includes Mac (Rogen) his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) and their new born baby Stella (twins Elise and Zoey Vargas) come to face unexpected difficulties after they are forced to live next to a fraternity house. That fraternity house belongs to Delta Psi and its leader Teddy (Zac Efron) is something "a gay guy designed in a laboratory" according to Rogen's Mac. He along with his vice president Pete (Dave Franco) and the rest of their brothers including Scoonie (an underused Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Garf (a hilarious Jerrod Carmichael who has no less than four great comedic moments) as well as pledges such as Assjuice (Craig Roberts who you may recognize as the lead from Submarine) have been moved off campus for burning their last house to the ground with fireworks. There is no explanation as to why the university might think this out-of-control band of partying pre-adults might survive better further away from their supervision, but the dean of the college (Lisa Kudrow) seems to care little about actualities and more about what headline certain events may relay into the next day. From the beginning Mac and Kelly are keen on not being the uncool, older neighbors who spoil all of these kids fun, but they still want the guys to keep it down; they have a baby after all and Mac has a nine to five desk job that he doesn't seem to particularly like, but it has paid for their new house and Kelly is able to stay at home with Stella so he does what he can to make it bearable despite his boss (Brian Huskey) wanting to be his best friend. Despite their attempts to play it cool though, and even after a night of partying and bonding with the frat, Mac and Kelly aren't able to handle the noise every night that keeps them and Stella awake through to the wee hours. This results in an all-out war between the Radner's and Delta Psi and they attempt to one up the other in hopes of driving each other from the neighborhood. There is seriously no bigger end-game than for the Radner's to have peace and quiet and for the frat to have their fun, though there is the slight goal of trying to earn their place on a legendary Delta Psi wall that Teddy really takes to heart, but besides that we are here to sit back and watch the shenanigans ensue.

Some may find this lack of narrative drive a little distressing or uninteresting, but the resulting film is anything but as both Rogen and especially Efron spearhead this thing as if they were actually fighting a war; rallying their troops, building enthusiasm and team spirit, strategizing plots to infiltrate and disrupt the circles of trust and beyond. It is an all-out comedic battle of how far either side is willing to go and fortunately for us, both sides are willing to go to pretty great lengths to both prove themselves and entertain us. It is also interesting to note the slight social commentary the film has at its core despite no signs of heavy-handedness anywhere near the feature. Where films such as last years Spring Breakers and Pain & Gain look at the excess of youth and the abandon of responsibility to obtain the ideology of organized fun and comradery Neighbors addresses these issues in the essence of Efron’s Teddy. Things are kept consistently light-hearted, but the film ultimately touches on a nerve of today’s social climate where the claims you make and the reputation you build is equal to what defines you rather than the work you put in and the talent you have. Teddy is a good-looking, likable guy who has the charisma to become friends with anyone willing to hang out and create a conversation with him, but who has little ambition beyond giving his peers the best time possible and making the college experience exactly that: an experience. He isn’t looking towards the future, he doesn’t see the importance in going to class or the rush to grow up, but he’s been doing the same schtick for four years now and it’s finally starting to catch up with him. He sees Pete going to job fairs and Mac and Kelly navigating an adult relationship and though he likes to call them old he knows he isn’t far off from where they are. As Teddy, Efron is on fire. His intensity and charisma is through the roof and his sense of comic timing as far as delivering the cocky sarcasm he relies on and the physical comedy aspects that rely on his ridiculous lack of body fat are consistent in their sting. Rogen also does some interesting things here as he is essentially documenting his break with the man-child persona he has employed for a fair amount of time now. He is technically a grown-up as he has the wife, the kid, the house, the whole nine yards, but is desperate to remain the cool guy at the party though he is having a more difficult than anticipated time deciding which party he actually wants to stay at.

Kelly (Rose Byrne) and Mac (Seth Rogen) do their best to acclimate themselves with their new neighbors.
Directed by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek) this is a comedy of break-neck speed and an inhibitions to the wind mentality as it doesn’t dwell on the themes it may or may not elicit in its simple story and it doesn’t feel the need to overindulge in its characters or its comedy as it runs a mere 96 minutes which is basically nothing when compared to the kind of insightful comedy that Apatow raised Rogen and his pals on. Speaking of pals, it is in these small supporting bits that the film finds much of its inspirations, as much if not more so than some of the grade-A gags it puts in place that I won’t spoil here. The most notable is Ike Barinholtz (The Mindy Project, MADtv) who plays Mac’s co-worker and good friend who likes to believe he is even younger than what Rogen is stretching for, but has already lived enough to the point he’s divorced. I initially didn’t expect Barinholtz’s Jimmy to factor in much, but when combined with the complication of Mac and Kelly choosing to hang out with either him or his ex-wife Paula (Apatow regular Carla Gallo) and the dynamics this allows on top of how they figure into the revenge plot against Delta Psi I couldn’t help but be psyched his brand of humor was a larger part of the film. I haven’t seen him in anything prior, but immensely enjoyed his contributions here (the scene in which he does a few impressions will get some of the biggest laughs in the theater). Speaking of brands of humor we must touch on the fact that Stoller and Rogen recruited Hannibal Buress to play the running joke that is Officer Watkins and he stays consistent with his stand-up persona by not trying to be the funniest guy in the room, but simply delivering his dialogue as he sees fit to talk to the person in front of him and the placid tone kills it every time. Looking closely you’ll see Natasha Leggero, Randall Park and Jason Mantzoukas all pop up which is just another reason I love comedies because I love knowing all of these funny people hang out together and appreciate one another enough to lend them some work while one sequence in particular features a roster of more popular troupes and one glorious Nick Miller cameo that will have you rolling from the creativity alone never mind the funny, recognizable faces they have participating in it. All of this is to say that Neighbors is basically a blast and though it never reaches the peak of comic greatness it is a more than solid farce that delivers exactly what you’d expect and an Efron/Rogen dynamic that elevates it that much further.