One could have some lingering trepidation about the raunchy and robust comedy Neighbors for the mere fact that…well…it is a raunchy comedy so that should be self-explanatory enough. Plus, the movie’s leads in Seth Rogen and Zac Efron have not exactly been lighting up the big screen as of late prior to their collaboration in this rabble-rousing romp. So one cannot be blamed for harboring reservations about this rollicking venture that could have been dismissed as another one-dimensional crude comedy with frivolous fratboy leanings. Surprisingly, Neighbors has a distinctive naughtiness that is both refreshingly perceptive and oddly poignant.
Director Nicholas Stoller’s chaotic and corrosive stamp is all over Neighbors as the theme of his films have a familiar pulse in showcasing adults in stages of their arrested development-or at least their attempts to make the continuing leap from past youthful indiscretions. As the filmmaker behind such off-the-wall offerings as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five Year Engagement and Get Him to the Greek, Stoller infuses Neighbors with the same kind of colorful ruckus that actually feels reflective amid the juvenile ribaldry. The question becomes quite evident: can responsible adults maintain their composure without reverting back to a time of youthful recklessness where boundaries seem to have no consequences? Hence, what better way to explore the intolerance of transitioning grown-up angst than the experimentation of that sociological species known as the next door neighbor?
Interestingly, Neighbors may strike a sympathetic chord with anyone that may had to endure the tensions and torment of close residents violating the code of the surrounding neighborhood. There have been real-life accounts of living arrangement disturbances all around the country-both comedic and tragic or reported and unreported-that magnify into an unshakable entity onto its own that Neighbors deliciously exploits with serviceable wackiness. Sure, Neighbors does overreach its irreverent foulness at times and it is safe to say that its unbalanced and warped wit is ode to the familiar off-kilter shenanigans of the classic cut-up crowd favorite National Lampoon’s Animal House from yesteryear. Nevertheless, screenwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien provide a raucous script that is bound to grab at the funnybone with its twisted and tasty sight gags, misplaced misfits and an overall satirical commentary on the hidden pitfalls of suburbia.
Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne) are proud parents of a baby girl Stella and just realized their dream of moving into a new home as they look to settle down and enjoy family life. It is important to know that Mac and Kelly were once wild and carefree in their heyday of youth so now as a married couple with an infant they look to enjoy the fruits of their personal and professional accomplishments. Certainly Mac and Kelly maintain that “party-hearty” mentality from days gone by as it is clearly not entirely out of their system despite the aging process. Soon, their need for “loosening up a bit” will be tested courtesy of the new neighbors that happen to move next store that threaten to test this nostalgic impulses for fun and frolic.
Specifically, the Radners’ new neighbors is the Delta Psi Beta fraternity that is led by the charismatic cad Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron). At first the novelty of having Teddy and his beer-guzzling buddies in a fraternity home next to them seemed somewhat apprehensive then intriguingly appealing especially given the sordid past that Mac and Kelly celebrated during their collegiate days when it was fashionable to be stupid with uncensored behavior. Thus, the Radners’ approach to “feeling out” Teddy and his fellow fratboys by stopping over at the Delta House and offering their neighborly presence is put into effect. Naturally, the visitation comes with the subtle plea from Mac that these college-bound cronies simply keep the noise down. Nevertheless, Mac and Kelly get too comfortable as Teddy indoctrinates the married couple into the subculture of booze, babes, bouncy tunes and blunts. Suffice to say that the Radners unexpectedly fell for the impish charm of Teddy and the bad influences of his glassy-eyed group.
Unfortunately, the temporary tolerance of good will that was established between the Radners and Teddy and his partying posse are no longer evident as things become exceedingly out of control over at the Delta Psi Beta House. Teddy continues to oversee the feisty festivities that are escalating in complete unruly and uncontrollable frenzy. Mac and Kelly retaliate with notifying the police and even utilizing ways to disable the house’s functioning by tampering with the plumbing and electricity. The loving tandem even resort to manipulating selected individuals to distract Teddy and his bunch with psychological sabotage such as trying to provoke Teddy’s best friend (Dave Franco) to mess around with his girl as a desperate manner in which to disarm him. Even the college dean (Lisa Kudrow) is tapped on the shoulder by the Radners in hopes that she will shut down the fraternity house. So the standoff is in motion which begs the question as to who will overcome the ordeal? Will Mac and Kelly achieve the tranquility that was their expectation all along and settle into the idyllic notion of suburbia? Or will Teddy resist the combative offense of “moody old folks” trying to squash what his youthful agenda is all about-being uninhibited and rejecting structure and composure as these restrictions will come soon enough after the protective walls of academia tumble down?
Neighbors devilishly embraces its wayward examination of struggling maturity and the coping mechanisms that trigger such fear. Yes, Stoller’s nudging narrative is conventional in terms of the high-maintenance hedonism involving throwaway raw jokes, edgy yet repetitive slapstick bits, biting sophomoric dialogue and risque situations. The manic energy and enthusiasm for the tawdriness makes for a trashy treat that Neighbors exemplifies with its bold banality. This crass comedy shockingly has some substance behind its wacky decadence and that says a lot in this day and age of flaccid funny showcases that fail to place any stable messaging behind the haughty humor.
Both Rogen and Byrne (“Bridesmaids”) are convincingly riotous as the marrieds dealing with the demons of their now defunct youth-oriented good times as evidenced by this college crowd’s misguided actions that finger such furor. The surprise here is Efron’s Teddy who is quite skillful and shows an off-balance display of a cunning fraternity president whose affability and cavalier comedic deception is more digestible than the other recent previous duds that he has been featured in so tediously. Although supporting players such as the veteran Emmy-winning Kudrow, Franco and others in Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jarrod Carmichael, Carla Gallo and Ike Barinholtz are not used to their full potential they still add some spicy personality to the pesky proceedings at large.
It is a total stretch to wholeheartedly love thy Neighbors in this instance but certainly it will be okay to merely like them without feigned appreciation.
Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Dave Franco, Lisa Kudrow, Hannibal Buress
Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien
CRITIC’S RATING: ** 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)