American comedy is due for a makeover. Audiences have subsisted on gross-out bro humor for some time now (see the entire Judd Apatow oeuvre), and while the recent popularity of It-girl Amy Schumer signals a shift, it’s one in which women get to be just as bawdy and profane as the boys. That’s a win for gender equality but not so much for comedic diversity. Eventually funny stories about mature, responsible adults will have their day, but for now, frat boy gags still rule.
That’s literally the case with Neighbors, which pits rowdy coeds against a young couple adjusting to parenthood. When a fraternity, Delta Psi, moves in next door, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) find themselves frustrated by the students’ perpetual partying but also tempted to relive their own youth. The movie seems to recognize that there’s little dramatic currency in rehashing a story about perpetually sophomoric guys and that the genre, much like its protagonists, needs to grow up. While it doesn’t entirely upend the formula, it does tweak its message enough to freshen things up a bit.
It helps that the script by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien is pretty damn funny. It doesn’t always make sense, but it’s always a riot. Why are the Radners the only ones in the neighborhood bothered by a raging house party at 4 a.m.? Why are the police so blind (deaf?) to noise ordinances? Why does the character Assjuice suddenly appear to bring down his own fraternity? Why does plot really matter when you have a bagful of college tricks at your disposal?
There’s everything you’d expect – penis jokes, penis and dildo jokes, weed highs, mushrooms highs, sex in front of a best friend, sex in front of a baby – all delivered in great, sweary abundance. When Mac and Kelly flood Delta Psi’s basement in an attempt to bankrupt them out of the house, president Teddy (Zac Efron) and vice-president Pete (Dave Franco) decide to 3D print their members’ members and sell them to pay for repairs. It’s wildly successful as a fundraiser and plot device, even though there are less obscene ways to accomplish both.
Temperance isn’t the operative word though, and Efron and Franco crank up the bluster. Efron shows that his image has graduated from the genial basketball player of his High School Musical days to raunchy beer pong champion. He confidently takes control of his scenes and, by the end of the film, even manages to win affection despite his character’s outlandish misbehavior. Franco, meanwhile, plays someone for whom the end-of-the-year party is not the end of all things. The actor slides with ease between a spliff-smoking frat boy and the brainy kid who wants to conquer something more substantial than a keg stand.
Pete’s anticipated transition is the current reality for Mac and Kelly, and they have not quite gotten over the surprise of having a baby or buying a house. They sneak around with the same slurry of excitement and trepidation as two underage kids who given the bouncer the slip. While the couple like the idea of being grown up and recognize some of the advantages of being a functioning adult, the arrival of Delta Psi challenges those priorities
The real struggle for them isn’t chasing college kids off the driveway or making sure there aren’t used condoms littered across the lawn but forgoing their impulse to do whatever the hell they want whenever they want. And it’s not just a dilemma that Mac faces. Though he thinks he has the better claim by virtue of his gender, Kelly also asserts her right to have a good time. Her reason isn’t stunted maturity so much as it is boredom. She doesn’t find stay-at-home motherhood all that it’s cracked up to be and longs to maintain an identity that isn’t dependent on her child or husband.
The role is a revelation for Byrne, who is better known for playing women who are too wound up. She seems to be savoring her part almost as much as her character. Of course Rogen doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen him do already, but he looks comfortable shying away from his bread and butter roles. Maybe everyone’s growing up after all.
Prod: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, James Weaver
Dir: Nicholas Stoller
Writer: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien
Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Lisa Kudrow, Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo, Craig Roberts, Hannibal Buress, Brian Huskey
Time: 97 min
Country: United States