Review: Neighbors (2014)



Nicholas Stoller
Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien
96 min.
Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jerrod Carmichael, Craig Robrets
MPAA Rating
R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout

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Animal House meets The War of the Roses, Neighbors is a rowdy battle between newly-minted parents and the undisciplined fraternity that moves in next door.

Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) have a young child and are settling into their quiet suburban lives when the house next door is sold to a college fraternity. While they try to make peace with them early and encourage them to keep things quiet for their and their child’s sake, it’s entirely unsurprising when their good intentions fail to make it through.

Zac Efron and Dave Franco lead the fraternity in their attempts to become important figures in the college party universe by mounting a legendary party at the end of the year that will secure their place on the house wall of fame. Mac and Kelly threaten that potential and when things escalate between them, a war begins.

Comedy is at its best when it tackles interesting topics while searching for the biggest laughs. Neighbors stages some very funny scenes, but the true test of its success is in how it subverts the simple setup and becomes a treatise on growing up and moving on. Mac and Kelly see Teddy (Efron), Pete (Franco) and their brothers as symbols of their disappearing youthful freedoms. They want to remain hip and connected to their wild college days, including having sex in every room in the house and at unusual hours of the day, but as they come to realize that their child requires that their adolescent antics are subdued, the fraternity becomes a further example of how they don’t want to raise their child.

Teddy (Efron) and Pete (Franco) see Mac and Kelly as their square, lifeless futures. They want to have fun and enjoy the last days of their young adult lives while gaining immortality through a potentially legendary end-of-year bash. While both are chomping at the bit to stage their party, the two are at opposite ends of the collegiate universe. Pete has terrific grades and is edging towards graduation with an eye toward success. Teddy is so enamored by his life as frat leader that he fails to recognize what the poor grades and educational disdain he has will ultimately lead to.

The war becomes a battle between youthful exuberance and growing up, a battle with no winners. The petty rivalry not only threatens the safety of their Mac & Kelly’s child, but it has the potential to destroy the future livelihoods of Teddy and Pete. They are each so blinded by the taste of victory that they don’t stop to realize what will happen until its too late. These concepts make for a richer, more dynamic foundation for a film that could easily have been a pathetic ’80s throwback.

Neighbors could have relied on lame situational humor, unnecessarily bodily function gags and a preponderance of easy targets, but screenwriters Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien have succeeded in making it more than that. There’s depth and pensiveness that might not reach the entire intended audience, but those who’ve been in or around both situations will surely recognize the effort that went into making this particular film stand out rather than just entertain and move on.

Rogen, Efron and Franco are actors whose uneven careers could have informed their performances. Rogen’s loveable doofus schtick fits perfectly into this type of framework, providing him with plenty of opportunities to fail and succeed while asserting his command over the viewer’s attention. Efron and Franco both have public personalities that resemble the fratboy sensibilities of Teddy and Pete. They play those stereotypes into naturally evolving characters who subtly and generous grow into adulthood. This might be the film that perfectly encapsulates Efron’s shift from High School Musical heartthrob to genuine leading man.

Yet, none of the film’s successes would have been achieved without the impeccable comic timing of Byrne. It’s easy for a film like this to minimize or diminish the roles of the female characters. Kelly Radner could have been a complicit, disinterested third party who clucks her disapproval in a lame stereotype that has too often pervaded this type of comedy. Byrne latches onto the character, sinks her teeth into some of the funniest deliveries in the film and turns around a potentially debiliating stereotype into a humorous, definitive expression of female energy. Katharine Hepburn would have approved.

Don’t go into Neighbors expecting a raucous, raunchy frat comedy. The elements are there, but you should look deeper at its attempts to isolate why such comedies work. The film taps into the consciousness and misspent youth of countless frat brothers to examine what it means to succeed and whether the end result is the one you want not the one you expect. For this, the audience is lucky enough to get what it wants, not what it expects.
Oscar Prospects
Review Written
Jun. 6, 2014

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