“Neighbors” pumps out the R-rated laughs we all expect from a comedy led by Seth Rogen. But he’s hardly the only comedic currency around worth investing in. When the usual gags begin to lull, a stellar cast and physical comedy help keep the clichés away.
Kelly (Rose Byrne) and Mac Radner (Rogen) have enough trouble navigating the tiresome adventure of parenthood. But only one thing can outdo the sounds of a crying child: a fraternity taking residence next door. Led by Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) and Pete Regazolli (Dave Franco), the frat boys plan to make their senior year an epic event worthy of the wall of fame, alongside the bros behind toga parties, beer pong and the boot and rally.
Alas, raging parties aren’t conducive to family life, and the Radners speak up. After failing to befriend the 20-somethings and leave any lasting influence, their not-so anonymous noise complaint results in an all-out war with Teddy, who takes this breach of trust far too personally. After buying off the neighbors and ensuring the “po po won’t shut them down” again, to paraphrase Kesha, the battle ensues.
Sure, frat brothers are energetic and inventive — especially when they steal the Radners’ airbags to create some hysterical traps — but the young parents have years of experience. In particular, Kelly knows how to infect the bromance of college guys. All she needs is a little jealousy cut with some infidelity. She’s more conniving than your average supervillain.
The stakes seem so minute — something Teddy learns the hard way as a futureless graduation nears — but the film is at its best when events reach world-ending proportions. Exaggeration and comedy are splendid bedfellows.
Rogen knows his way around a raunch-comedy engulfed in a cloud of weed and other unsavory practices, but the real shocker is how well dreamy, “High School Musical” star Zac Efron holds his own amid genre veterans. Gone are his tween years; he’s a man now, with the mouth and tricks to prove it. Topping Efron, Byrne picks up where her enjoyable performance in “Bridesmaids” left off. She’s Rogen’s equal, not his subordinate.
And what comedy thrives without supporting characters? Radner’s friends, Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz, from “The Mindy Project”) and Paula (Carla Gallo), are equally out of control and melodramatic. When Paula says she wants a baby, and Jimmy responds, “Yes, that will solve all our problems,” it’s difficult not to cheer for the naivety and self-deprecation of crazy love.
Back on the frat side, this band of hazed brothers hold the fort well. Franco, as Pete, hardly lives up to his namesake, but he’s a necessary, mid-level character. Christopher Mintz-Plasse (good ol’ McLovin), as Scoonie, has a few moments but mainly stays in the background. And Jerrod Carmichael, as Garf, is a fresh face sure to reappear in another film in the same genre. Lastly, let’s all take a moment and bask in Lisa Kudrow’s bit part as Dean Gladstone. The “Friends” star is a goddess of laughs, as she once again proves here.
The fourth time’s a charm for director Nicholas Stoller (“Get Him to the Greek” and “The Five-Year Engagement”), who finally recaptures the glory of his freshman contribution, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”. Generally, his films lack the crisp feel and smooth flow of more established directors, but he basks in a rawness often missing in most comedies. But sometimes he just doesn’t know how to keep the jokes coming. Less so here. “Neighbors” has a better laugh-to-courtesy-chuckle ratio, and several original moments amid a rather formulaic premise.
By the end, “Neighbors” falls apart narratively. Yes, it concludes the struggle, but it doesn’t satisfyingly resolve the potential bromance between Mac and Teddy. One of the film’s central tenants is the idea that these nemeses would’ve been friends if they met in college. Only age and different social circumstances separate the two. Rather than conclude that story, the film reaffirms the primacy of the family unit at the expense of any other relationships. Family is a wonderful thing, but perhaps other friendships are relevant as well.
As a raunch-comedy with some soul, “Neighbors” hits all the right notes, even if some jokes fall flat or turn into a one-note samba. Perhaps most exciting, Stoller will hopefully stay on top, and Efron will explore more adult roles, leaving behind anything with Sparks in the author byline.
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