It’s a funny thing how age can significantly factor into the enjoyment of comedy. The older you become the more satire you’re able to comprehend, while perhaps a part of your ever evolving subjective tastes shun aspects of humor that once tickled your fancy. This contemplation struck me hard when I saw Nicholas Stoller’s Neighbors, which on one hand spoke to my extroverted, college years when I was actually in a fraternity half a decade ago, and on the other hand resonated to my post alma mater lifestyle of comfort and quiet. Accepting a balance between worlds of family and fraternity, I found Neighbors to be absolutely hilarious, but misses the mark with some of its heartfelt intentions.
Unofficially, Neighbors can be viewed as a follow up to Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, and a prequel to That Awkward Moment (my review). Here we have Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne), a married couple in their early 30’s who are navigating the ins-and-outs of parenthood with their newborn daughter Stella (Elise & Zoey Vargas). To support his family, Mac works a desk job while Kelly is a stay at home mom. Together they live in a quaint suburban area of a college town, but struggle to maintain an active social life with their divorced friends Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo).
Everything changes for the Radners when they receive new neighbors (zing!), the men of the Delta Psi Beta fraternity. As the pledges move their upperclassmen Delta Psi brothers into their new off campus home – because who else is going to do it? – Mac and Kelly take the initiative to establish themselves as the cool, hip parents next-door. With an offering of a peace joint, the Radners ask the boys to “keep it down” if they can help it when their parties get a little rowdy. Led by their chapter president Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) and vice president Pete (Dave Franco), Delta Psi ensures they will respect the Radner’s request as long as they go to them first before they speak to the police.
And wouldn’t you know it, college happens and Teddy doesn’t stick to the agreement. So the cops are called. With the trust circle broken, the war between Delta Psi and the Radners begins. Can the Radners find peace and tranquility or will Delta Psi be able to throw the greatest party of the year and placed in their hall of fame? Cars are vandalized, brother is pitted against brother, and dildos are thrown in an epic, intergenerational smack down.
Greek life on college campuses are slowly losing a war against mass media as the negative connotations are highlighted more often than the positive – you can read all of the ridiculous stories on Total Frat Move every day. I don’t believe lingerie parties, elephant walks, and disruptive community behavior is what the founders of sororities and fraternities had in mind when they began their organizations. They’ve become more of a social club than anything and have severely digressed throughout the years and Neighbors actually nails many aspects of fraternity life on the head, from pledgeship to theme parties to administration politics to the aesthetic feel of the Delta Psi house. More often stereotypical “bro” houses that “frat” hard are what youths associate Greek life as these days, but there is a side of the system that the film doesn’t even bother to depict.
There is a glimmer of what it means to be a part of these brotherhoods, and I don’t believe Neighbors is trying to attack the Greek system at all – I promise this isn’t a rant about how going Greek is great – but I wish they showed a constructive side of fraternities that could balance out Delta Psi’s devious cartoonish behavior. There are no other fraternities or sororities mentioned, which is lost potential. If they were able to create parallels between family versus brotherhood I think Neighbors could have been a stronger movie. Instead, the main focus is on accepting responsibilities of adulthood and what it takes to overcome trials and tribulations as a young married couple.
Regardless of its shortcomings in plot, the physical and spoken comedy is priceless – for those who enjoy pure, unadulterated, raunchy humor, the laughs are bountiful. There are more penis gags/jokes than you can possibly fathom. The way they are able to utilize genitalia in so many different punchlines has a certain finesse Ron Jeremy would be jealous of. Honestly, I don’t believe the film can go five minutes without referencing someone’s junk or talking about the extremity. Referential gags and other outrageous acts of lewd behavior is littered throughout the movie, completely going balls out literally and figuratively. Some jokes can run a bit long at times, but I found myself laughing nonetheless.
We know Seth Rogen (Funny People; Knocked Up) can hold his own in the genre, but Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids; Insidious) does a good job holding her own against the comedy titan. Efron (That Awkward Moment; High School Musical) and Franco (21 Jump Street; Now You See Me) also have solid comedic timing and bromantic chemistry together. Outside of the four main stars, the supporting cast is superb. Barinholtz (MADtv) and Gallo (Undeclared) are a funny bickering sort, but other Delta Psi members Scoonie (Superbad’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Garf (Jerrod Carmichael), along with a pledge nicknamed Assjuice (Craig Roberts), are a complete riot on screen. There are also plenty of amazing, brief cameos too.
While mostly playing for laughs, Neighbors is a bit rocky when it comes to building relationships with these characters. Everyone is fleshed out fairly well, but when the movie tries to slow down with a deeper, emotional scene it doesn’t feel earned. You can honestly tell they wanted to squeeze in some meaningful life lessons, but is delivered is spoon fed and forced. We can accept their conflict resolutions with each character on a basic level because we’ve seen these cliché tropes before. There’s nothing profound about these interactions because they feel as if they’re just filler to tie up loose ends, servicing the plot because it has to, not because the story naturally asks for it.
For a short 96 minutes, Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall; Get Him to the Greek) runs a tight ship, keeping the momentum at a good pace and never allowing a lull in the energy. As a silly, titillating, and enjoyable comedy, Neighbors runs on all cylinders, breaking my funny bone on multiple occasions with tons of memorable, knee-slapping moments. Sadly the film isn’t able to serve up anything emotionally resonating to truly care about the characters or their dilemmas.
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Neighbors is in theaters Friday, May 9. It was directed by Nicholas Stoller with a run time of 96 minutes. This film has been rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout.