Neighbors (2014)

I don’t have much of a problem with Neighbors. Honestly, I expected to. I don’t particularly like either of the two male leads — or much of the cast, really — this style of comedy is very hit-and-miss with me, and it’s often the case that comedies that receive rave reviews to little for me. But, as it turns out, Neighbors is pretty darn funny. It’s not fantastic, it’s not life-changing, and it’s not the new best comedy for you and your buddies, but it’s an enjoyable 90 minutes watching a movie.

The film focuses on a couple of groups of people in the suburbs of some city. The first is a recently married couple, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), who now own a home and have a child. They’re trying to act like grown-ups even though their friends still very much party-going types. They’re relatively mature and trying to figure out how to be a real family. The house next to them begins the film vacant. It doesn’t remain that way for long. A fraternity moves in, which is led by Teddy (Zac Efron). It becomes a frat house overnight.

Obviously, this isn’t the ideal thing for the formerly peaceful neighborhood. Mac and Kelly go next door, ask the fraternity to keep the noise down, and everything seems good. But, that night, a party breaks out. It’s now a war. An escalating series of battles occurs for the rest of the film. That’s essentially all there is to Neighbors. It’s a battle between the team of Seth Rogen/Rose Byrne and Zac Efron and his frat (which has Dave Franco and Christopher Mintz-Plasse in it).

That’s … actually just about it. It’s generational warfare where everything goes. The fraternity doesn’t want to leave, the married couple wants them to leave, and the rest of the neighborhood is lazily written out of the plot in a single scene. I find it impossible to believe that the absurdly loud music wouldn’t annoy a single other person on the street, but such is life. Everyone is profane, some of the war tactics are obscene, and, yes, I know it’s a raunchy comedy. I’m not being critical; I’m being descriptive.

If the film has a problem, it’s that its generational gap doesn’t seem to be particularly large. These types of things work best when the difference between the two sides is enormous, while here is minuscule. I get why Mac and Kelly are this age — it allows them to grow as characters by becoming “responsible parents” by the end — but that’s less comedic than, say, a middle-aged couple would be. In that case, they could even have a child or two close to the age of the frat boys, which would lead to even more conflict. I’m just brainstorming here, folks.

The most enjoyable part of Neighbors is watching Rose Byrne, who goes at the project with all the determination an actor should. She gets some of the film’s best moments, and adds some strength to the acting department. Funny as they may be, I don’t think many people are going to confused Rogen and Efron with strong dramatic actors. To be fair, Efron does turn in what is probably his best performance to-date, showing a touch more depth than his role probably required. Give this guy a summer action movie franchise, movie people. He’d probably do really well at it.

What else is there to say? Neighbors is a comedy that’s funny but not as funny as it could have been. I laughed more than I expected to, but not as much as I ultimately wanted to. It’s another minor success for director Nicholas Stoller, who is now batting three for four in his career. The actors are fine, the jokes are plenty, it’s very R-rated, and that’s about all that anyone should say about it. To say more would ruin it.

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