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Review: Neighbors

May 19, 2014

By John Corrado

*** (out of 4)

Neighbors Poster

Can people who have kids ever return to their days of staying up late and partying, or will they always become the overtired neighbours begging the college kids to “keep it down?”

This is the central question asked in Neighbors, a raunchy comedy that opened in a surprise first place at the box office last weekend and continues to do well financially, even in the wake of Godzilla.

Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) have mostly settled into their roles parenting a newborn daughter.  But then a fraternity moves in next door, captained by Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) and his friend Pete (Dave Franco), and their quiet suburban neighbourhood suddenly transforms into party central.

It’s not that Mac and Kelly have any moral objection to the frat house partying, because they even join them on the first night after bribing them with a little weed.  But we do get the sense that they are secretly jealous this is no longer their life, and when they call the cops to make a noise complaint on the second night, an all out war starts between the family and the fraternity.

Director Nicholas Stoller brought more genuine heart to his previous films Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Five-Year Engagement, both of which benefitted from starring Jason Segel, but Neighbors is a different kind of comedy.  Those films allowed us to spend more time with the relationships of their likeable characters, where Neighbors is tightly wound at 96 minutes and doesn’t take sides, focusing as much on the hijinks as the personalities behind them.

Mac enjoys his quiet family life and role as a father, but he’s also a stoner who isn’t really ready to give up his partying ways, and Seth Rogen does fine work in this updated version of his usual characters.  Kelly is a young mother who genuinely loves her daughter, but also uses the fact that she has a baby to justify her nasty streak, and Rose Byrne seems to be having a lot of fun letting loose.  Teddy is a hard partier who is increasingly aware of his slight intellectual prospects, and is terrified of the future that he sees staring back at him in the form of these neighbours, and Zac Efron delivers what is easily one of his best performances yet.

Regardless of whether you relate more to the circumstances of the older or younger characters, none of them really deserve our sympathy, especially when their prank wars escalate to increasingly dangerous levels.  This is actually a strength of the movie.  Because we are not forced to particularly like either the hard partiers or the young couple with the cute baby, whom many would mistake as the heroes, we are able to be both shocked and entertained by how low both sides are willing to go.  When they try to bring down the fraternity by exposing their twisted hazing rituals, the film is taken in an intriguingly more disturbing direction, pushing the envelope even further.

Some of the laughs here do border on stupid, like a gag involving squirting breast milk that was probably funnier in theory, while others feel like they probably went further in the editing room, like the admittedly amusing bit involving stolen airbags that is shown in all the trailers.  But there are also some very funny sequences in Neighbors and a few great one liners, including Zac Efron being referenced as looking like “something a gay man would create in a lab.”  The flashy party scenes are appropriately over the top and often play as inspired lunacy, with a mostly great soundtrack.

Although Neighbors isn’t as consistently laugh out loud funny as some other recent comedies, the film is never less than entertaining, and moves along at a quick pace.  But it’s the cast that really elevates the material, with Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne and especially Zac Efron all bringing some surprising depth to their often refreshingly unsympathetic characters.

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