Saturday, May 10, 2014
Neighbors has a real idea at its center, that being a grownup with a house and a family is as scary in its own way as the transition from college to adulthood. Director Nicholas Stoller executes this idea just well enough to keep the movie from being a disposable pleasure, but if you’ve seen the trailer then you know that the jokes are the reason why we’re here. Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are new parents settling into their first house when a fraternity moves in next door. Delta Psi president Teddy (Zac Efron) first promises to be considerate of his new neighbors and their child, but soon the music and the parties have Mac and Kelly plotting how to get the brothers kicked out. The script by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien is clever enough to make life at the frat house attractive to Mac and Kelly, even as they decide how ask Teddy the keep the noise down they’re worried about how to look cool. (Notice how often Mac says “dope”.) The frat parties prove irresistible; Rogen shows some physical comedy skills in a dance-off scene and Byrne (baby monitor clutched to one ear) plays Kelly as a woman craving a moment’s release from motherhood. Rose Byrne is the real star of Neighbors, the broad comic roles she has played in Bridesmaids and Get Him to the Greek aren’t anything on the very specific character she creates here. Byrne is more than a match for Rogen, who plays a version of his usual character and as usual sounds like he’s making up his lines. (That quality may be his greatest gift.) I’ve never thought much about Zac Efron as an actor, as opposed to a personality, but here there’s a fascinating blankness to Teddy that’s either a result or an unintended consequence of Efron’s ability. Teddy is just beginning to realize that he doesn’t get it, never more so than in a scene where he watches his best friend (Dave Franco) at a job fair. Our last sight of Teddy doesn’t allow for much of a future for the character, though it does argue for why Efron will have a career for a while longer.
Neighbors ends with a showdown at the Delta Psi year-end rager - the comic violence escalates throughout the movie - and with Mac and Kelly embracing the next chapter of their lives. As thick as the jokes fly, with a better than usual hit/miss ratio, the fact that not all the characters get off easily is the movie’s greatest asset. While immaturity has never been a bad bet as the subject of big studio comedies, Neighbors finds some bite and plenty of laughs in the struggles of growing up.