It’s not often that a pure comedy will spark my curiosity. Of the 20 Films I expressed interest in seeing this year, I guess only three of them (this, 22 Jump Street, and Horrible Bosses 2) would be considered pure comedies (unless you count The Lego Movie, but I tend to lump animated films into a different category). Well-done comedies seem especially hard to come by—perhaps even harder to ferret out than well-done horrors, and God knows there haven’t been many of those so far this year. A few comedies have come and gone, but Neighbors was the first one so far that had my interest long before the release date.
I’ll admit it: I like Seth Rogen. There’s something very accessible about him and his man-child characters—even if those characters differ remarkably little from film to film. His presence was what initially drew me to Neighbors, but the inclusion of Rose Byrne and Zac Efron caught my eye as well. It seemed like an odd bunch to be grouped together. But you know what? I enjoyed all three of these actors immensely in this film—so much so that I think this is actually one of the comedies to beat this year.
Synopsis: “A couple with a newborn baby face unexpected difficulties after they are forced to live next to a fraternity house.” –Borrowed from my favorite movie site, IMDb.
The Good: Ultimately, I believe 90 percent of this movie’s success can be attributed to the chemistry between Rogen and Byrne. On paper (or on computer screen), it seems like an unusual pairing, but these two really breathe life into new parents Mac and Kelly. They’re not what you’d typically expect from a couple in a comedy like this—a point which Kelly herself makes in a surprisingly satisfying, fourth-wall-bending moment. She is not the shrew wife telling her meek husband to be a man and stand up to the noisy neighbors. They are both more than those archetypes, and the story is more than that, too. Mac and Kelly are a team—a funny, tough, clever team that work as such to take down their frat boy neighbors. And I love that about them. Honestly, this could be one of my favorite comedic couples ever. They are a riotously fun pair at an awkward crossroad where their youthful, carefree pasts and the responsibilities of parenthood intersect. Watching them trying to navigate that road is a lot of fun. So, yeah, they’re great, but my biggest concern going into this film was the frat boys. I mean, how do you make frat boys more than frat boys (no offense, current, former, or future frat boys)? Well, Neighbors manages to pull that off, too—largely due to Zac Efron. Words you never thought you’d hear? Surprise! He’s actually great in this. And I’m not just saying that because he’s very pretty (though, admittedly, that doesn’t hurt). As Teddy, president of the fraternity that moves in next door, Efron plays a character with more depth than you’d expect. Yes, he’s the hard-partying, charismatic alpha dog of the frat house, but he can also be genuinely kind and even vulnerable. The latter is shown well through his relationship with his right-hand man, Pete (Dave Franco). Also, his chemistry with Rogen as almost as fantastic as Rogen’s chemistry with Byrne. Throw these characters in with lots of hilarious moments and even a few touching ones, and you’ve got a very fun film.
Favorite scene: Mac and Teddy get into a pretty epic fight during which Teddy declares “I am Batman!” before hurling a beer can at Mac with less than desired results. I laughed. A lot.
The Bad: Though I believe that the frat generally works, there are a few moments/characters that give me pause. The frat house bimbos, for instance, seem present for two reasons: 1) to provide brief female companionship for Kelly, and 2) to create tension later in the film. Since there is no attempt to develop these bimbos, their presence seems unnecessary—especially for the first reason. Why can’t Kelly just hang with the boys? There are also a few actors/characters that seem thrown into the film for no real reason, the most prominent of these being Christopher Mintz-Plasse as forgettable frat boy Scoonie. Is there some kind of unwritten rule that Mintz-Plasse has to make an appearance in every party boy comedy out there? The guy seems to get a lot of random roles. Scoonie does almost nothing in this film, aside from providing a long-running joke about his *ahem* anatomy and acting as a brief love interest for Paula (Carla Gallo), a friend to Kelly and Mac. For that matter, Paula herself seems pretty unnecessary, as does the weak subplot involving her ex-husband, Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz). Even Lisa Kudrow’s presence as a dean of the fraternity’s college made me cock my head and think, “Why are you here?” Other than that, I would just say that the ending to this film seems a little rushed. Lessons are learned, but there’s not a whole lot of time to let those lessons sink in. Not that any of the lessons in this film are life-altering, but still.
Least favorite scene: Pete shows off his “talent.” Dumb humor to the max.
To Sum It Up: If you typically like Rogen’s stuff and/or bawdy comedies—heck, maybe even if you’re a fan of Animal House—I’m going to go ahead and say you’ll be a fan of this one, too. Plenty of laughs and more substance than you’d expect. Plus, Rogen, Byrne, and Efron truly are wonderful. If it sounds like your thing, definitely check out a matinee showing.
My Grade: B+
MOTHER’S DAY BONUS PIC:
You’re welcome. 😉 Really though, Happy Mother’s Day to all you awesome mommas–including my own (hi, Mom)!