Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout
Cast: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Halston Sage, Jerrod Carmichael and Lisa Kudrow
Written By: Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien
Directed By: Nicholas Stoller
Seth Rogen is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the comedy world. Last summer’s apocalyptic farce This is the End was the funniest movie of 2013 and thus far, Neighbors stands as the funniest film of 2014.
In this astonishingly crude comedy with both smarts and heart, Rogen and his collaborators – including director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek) and writers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien – shrewdly skew and point out genre cliches. More on that later…
Neighbors tells the story of married couple Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen, Rose Byrne) who are at a point in their lives where its time to say farewell to adolescence and take on the responsibility of caring for a newborn baby. Their single friend Paula (Carla Gallo) invites them to go to a rave, but without a babysitter, they decide to take the baby along with them. By the time they pack the diaper bag, fill the milk bottle and put the stroller together, Mac and Kelly have fallen asleep.
Already struggling with boring jobs and parenthood, more problems arise when a fraternity moves into the house next door. Mac and Kelly, knowing the frat is a potential nuisance, attempt to befriend their new neighbors by bringing them a welcoming gift of marijuana while attempting to find the coolest way to say “keep it down” without coming off authoritatively.
Members of the frat include president Teddy (Zac Efron), his righthand man Pete (Dave Franco) and Scoonie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). The frat also realizes that the family next door could create problems for their partying ways, so they invite Mac and Kelly to their first bash to get on their neighbors good side.
From here on out, the plot is simple. Mac and Kelly break a promise of not calling the police when the frat gets too loud, an indiscretion that results in all out war. The rest of the comedy plays out with the neighbors one-upping each other in a series of pranks and sabotages in order to get the other party to leave the neighborhood. However, amongst the nonstop barrage of dick jokes and crude sexual hijinks is a movie with more character nuance than is to be expected from this type of fare.
The filmmaker’s have wisely made Mac and Kelly best friends and equal partners in crime as opposed to the usual comedy trope of an immature husband and a nagging wife. Kelly is as devious as Mac – with their dynamic playing out more like a buddy comedy than an opposites attract style sitcom. The self-aware script points out this much in a scene where Mac feels that he should be the irresponsible one while Kelly is the level-headed wife. “Haven’t you ever seen a Kevin James movie?” he asks. “We can’t both be Kevin James.”
Rogen more or less plays his typical movie persona, but the reliable comic schlub delivers the funny. Byrne is a major standout here, getting to be as wild as the boys and not delegated to the usual movie wife who’s the voice of reason. The two have a great chemistry together, especially in one of the film’s most memorable gags – a breast milk mishap which is best left for you to witness for yourself. Just when I thought that every gag involving bodily fluids had made its way into a raunchy comedy – they’ve managed to come up with another one.
As for the frat, Efron gives a very funny performance as the dimwitted antagonist who is enrolled in college purely to party and never attends class. Frat VP Pete is a bit more mature and realizes that as seniors, they will eventually have to move on from their college bubble and enter the adult world. Franco and Efron are a winning pair in their complicatedly humorous relationship as frat brothers who are inevitably headed for separate paths.
A psychology minor, Pete points out why Teddy is so threatened by their grown up neighbors. Mac and Kelly represent a not too distant and uncertain future for Teddy. If that’s too much character study for you, don’t worry – the raucous comedy mostly features the frat guys up to no good in a movie that has an excessive fascination with the male genitalia – a sendup of the homoerotic buffoonery which the average alpha-male/frat-boy ironically gets involved with.
A standout supporting cast includes Ike Barinholtz as Mac’s best friend, the scene-stealing Craig Roberts playing a wimpy pledge dubbed “Assjuice” and a surprisingly hilarious cameo by Lisa Kudrow as the university’s snarky Dean.
Director Nicholas Stoller stages scenes with visual flair, especially in a party scene illuminated by black-lights that leads to a dance-off between Rogen and Efron’s characters.
Neighbors is remarkably dirty and R-rated but it has more to offer than just shock value. It happens to be quite intelligent, which might be hard to believe from a movie where the main characters engage in a dildo fight. The comedic performances are stellar across the board and on a laugh-per-minute ratio, most of the gags hit hard. It helps that the film breezes along at a swift 90-minutes.
The film isn’t quite as satisfying as the weirder and more innovative This is the End, yet Rogen and cohorts have kept up their winning formula with yet another entertaining comedy that’s equal parts smart, stupid, good-natured and filthy.