The surprise success of Neighbors serves as another box office hit for Seth Rogen. While not on the level of a Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler in their prime, Rogen has shown more recent consistency than many of his fellow comedic A-listers. Yet the irony is that Neighbors is just one of several films where Rogen is the lead, but has had supporting players steal the show from under him.
While Rogen is a legitimate headliner, he hasn’t always been the best part of his movies – which is usually a prerequisite for a leading man in comedy or drama. Still, this says less about Rogen’s strengths and weaknesses than it does about the people he surrounds himself with. As it turns out, the best movies he’s starred in are ones where he can stand back and let his co-stars run loose – a skill not everyone can master.
Rogen launched his career by being part of impressive ensembles, in Judd Apatow’s beloved, short lived TV show Freaks and Geeks and then on the big screen in Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin. But then Apatow put him front and center in Knocked Up, as every poster had a laugh at him as the baby daddy of Katherine Heigl. Yet while Knocked Up did make Rogen a full fledged star, it was Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann who were recognized as the real scene stealers – to the point where they got a semi-spinoff years later.
Nevertheless, Rogen came right and headlined Pineapple Express the next summer, which also made money and won a lot of fans. Yet when people talked about the best parts of the movie, they were usually cited to James Franco and Danny McBride. It served as Franco’s breakthrough in comedy and a stepping stone towards cult status for McBride, while Rogen was a bit more forgettable by comparison.
The upstaging continued in Funny People, where Rogen was a co-lead with Adam Sandler, yet Sandler got all the buzz in a rare semi-serious role. 50/50 allowed Rogen to be semi-serious as well, although Joseph Gordon-Levitt was the star on the rise in that film. Then came This Is The End, where Rogen played himself and was overshadowed by McBride, Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera and Emma Watson as themselves too.
Neighbors continues the tradition, despite how Rogen is playing a slightly more adult version of his usual persona – or at least plays someone trying to be. But it’s the two leads alongside him that garnered most of the buzz from critics and fans. Zac Efron got it for breaking free of his usual heartthrob roles and finding his place in R-rated comedy, just like Franco did with Rogen years ago. Meanwhile, instead of being pigeonholed as a nagging wife, Rose Byrne was allowed to have as much madcap comic chemistry with Rogen as Franco, Hill or Baruchel.
Perhaps Rogen is easy to take for granted, while the likes of Efron, Byrne, Franco and Rudd break out alongside him. Perhaps he is merely lucky to work with funny people that take the load off of him – although talented co-stars couldn’t bail him out in Observe and Report, Zack and Miri Make A Porno, The Green Hornet or The Guilt Trip. In any case, the Ferrells, Sandlers and Ben Stillers of the comic world work alongside major talents all the time, yet their movies rise and fall primarily with them no matter what.
Rogen isn’t judged by that criteria, as his movies don’t succeed or fail based solely on what he does. Maybe this shows his limitations as a star who can carry his own movies. However, compared to the mixed results from Ferrell, Sandler and the like when they carry their own films, it makes it easier to appreciate someone who doesn’t waste his co-stars.
As Neighbors gets bigger, it may further cement Rogen himself as a box office draw, even though it is Byrne and Efron who really put him over the top – just as Rudd and Mann did in Knocked Up and Franco and McBride did in Pineapple Express. While it is weird to have a comedic A-lister who isn’t usually the funniest part of his movies, it has been the good kind of weird at its best.
Instead of hogging the spotlight, Rogen lets himself shine better when he’s with others that can keep up – whether they’re used to it like Franco and Rudd, or are relatively new to it like Efron and Byrne. As much as Ferrell and Sandler surround themselves with notable talent, there’s never any question that they’re in mere service of the real star, which doesn’t always pay off.
Rogen’s name may never be as big a draw as Ferrell, Sandler and the other Brat Packers of old, and the quality of his work may be more hit and miss than anything. Yet when it hits for Rogen, he doesn’t usually need to do it alone. In fact, his best material has come when he’s had someone like Rudd, Mann, Franco, McBride, Efron or Byrne to push him higher.
As such, although he may not always be the most memorable part of a Seth Rogen movie, Rogen’s capacity for teamwork has still made those movies all the more reliable.