There are certain things you can expect from a movie like Neighbors. A movie helmed by the director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, co-written by the producer of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, produced by the creator of This Is the End, and starring the face of the contemporary Brat Pack stoner comedy genre. These things include: excessive drug use, obscure-to-painfully-lame pop culture references, gratuitous-ish female nudity, gratuitous-ish male nudity, dick jokes, fart jokes, gay jokes, black jokes, and riffs that often run too long. To complain about the usage of such things in a film of this kind is fruitless. Expect them to be there, because they will be.
Sadly, what I’ve stopped expecting from these movies is some sort of consistent intelligence. Thankfully, Neighbors is the (very) welcome exception. Don’t get me wrong, Neighbors is a film of its kind – generously appealing to its base audience with sex, drugs, and EDM, but its absurdity is steadily accompanied with a razor-sharp wit that transcends mere toilet humor.
Young married couple, Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne), move into a nice home on a quiet street with their infant daughter. They’re just starting to embrace the reality of becoming adults when a fraternity (run by Zac Efron and Dave Franco) moves in next door. The adults try to play nice, the kids don’t listen. The cops are called. War is waged. Chaos ensues.
I have trouble with many of the movies born from the Judd Apatow school of filmmaking. Generally, most of them are good for a few laughs, but just as many fall flat. Occasionally, there’s a component(s) that breaks through and elevates the film. For Neighbors, these components are Zac Efron and Rose Byrne.
Raised under the strict tutelage of Disney, Zac Efron initially tried to break out with a string of bad-to-worse romance dramas and flawed comedies. Despite this, I always find myself rooting for the guy. He’s taking chances. He fully embraced the madness of Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy and delivered a fine lead turn in the JFK assassination drama, Parkland. But as frat leader Teddy Sanders in Neighbors, Efron has never been better. The challenge here is that many people perceive the real Zac Efron to be a variation of the frat boy stereotype. And while that isn’t something I believe, the point is that, through Neighbors, he’s so dedicated to owning the frat boy jock douchebag persona that he singlehandedly makes the film worth it. His comic timing is perfect and his use of physical presence is hysterical. My favorite moment of Efron’s in the film is nothing more than a series of jump cuts that get closer and closer to his confused and angered face. Efron really went for it here, and I honestly can’t say enough good things about it.
I’ve been a fan of Rose Byrne’s work since she played a neglected daughter in the criminally overlooked film, The Dead Girl. Since then, she’s delivered solid performances in nearly every film genre and been nominated for a couple of Emmys for her commanding work on Damages. Most of the Neighbors crowd will recognize her as queen bitch Helen from Bridesmaids, but her turn in Neighbors is easily her finest comedic effort yet. Given the freedom to speak in her native Australian accent, Byrne outshines every other actor in the movie with her dry humor and sharp intellect. She can riff with the best of them, and sell a joke to hilarious results. I had no idea Byrne had this performance in her. A pleasant surprise in a genre lacking them.
Neighbors is far from groundbreaking, but it had enough going on to keep me entertained and laughing throughout. Efron and Byrne were chiefly responsible for this, as was the impressive production design/photography of the frat party sequences (they’re gorgeous in a disgusting way). Beyond the film’s humor, Neighbors genuinely had a lot of interesting things to say about one’s inability to accept adulthood. Mac and Kelly are immature and neglectful, and they know it. In many ways, they’re barely housebroken themselves. They miss the party, and want nothing more than to be invited back. But at some point, you have to grow the hell up and accept your life, now. I’d be curious to know if the Teddy Sanders’ of the world see Neighbors for what it actually is. B