“Neighbors” – Much Better Than Expected


Neighbors (Nicholas Stoller, 2014)

At one point in Neighbors, the new raucous and raunchy comedy from the director of the equally incredibly-stupid-yet-funny Get Him to the Greek (and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which I have not seen), one of the frat boys says, after having his pubic hairs brutally ripped off for reasons that I will avoid spoiling here, “That was much worse than I expected.” Well, Neighbors was much better than I feared. The movie’s trailer left me contemplating almost two hours of hellish Animal House-wannabe antics, yet when it was over, I realized that I’d spent as much time laughing as groaning in agony. Seth Rogen (ubiquitous funny man, most recently in This Is the End), Rose Byrne (versatile actress, recently in The Internship), Zac Efron (also versatile, as seen from his work in The Paperboy) and Dave Franco (James‘s younger brother, most recently in Now You See Me) make a pretty good on-screen team, and as long as you go in with your eyes open (which, since film-going is a visual experience, would be a good idea, anyway . . .), you’ll have a reasonably good time.

Rogen and Byrne play a late-20s married couple – dubbed “old people” by the college kids – who are new and loving parents to a baby girl. They’re not quite ready for the responsibilities (and, as the film portrays it, boredom) of the adult world, yet nor are they the party animals of their recently departed youth . . . well, not quite. They still enjoy lighting up a blunt and imagining that they’re still hip, but when they try to get out of the house for a night at the club, they’re too exhausted to make it past the door. And then, one day, a fraternity from the local college moves in next door. Rogen and Byrne are both fascinated and afraid: Zac Efron’s manifest physical charms attract them both (in different ways), yet they worry about the potential noise.

They’re first approach is to make nice with the new neighbors (a strategy reciprocated by the frat boys, who burned down their last house and want everything to go smoothly in their new digs), so they head over and party as if it’s 200 . . . well, whenever they were students. In the morning, they part company the best of friends, and promise to always talk directly to Efron (the frat’s president) about noise before ever calling the cops. Flash forward to the very next night, when a new party rages on, and the young parents break their promise. What follows is all-out war.

There are jokes that work and others that don’t, yet even when the film has each side resort to mean tactics (some, especially those involving automobile airbags, quite dangerous), the overall vibe is never excessively nasty. There are dildos large and small, a lot of drugs and alcohol, and cartoonish violence, but it all ends surprisingly sweetly. Frenemies have never hugged each other so meaningfully as in the film’s final encounter between Efron and Rogen. All of the performers seem to be having a great time, and all are equipped with oodles of charm (and Efron with a killer new bod), and Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe from Friends“) is a funny addition as the Dean of Students. If you can weather the idiocy and stick around for the parts that work, you’ll hopefully have at least as good a time as I did. If that’s hardly a stunning recommendation, it’s better than a pan . . .

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