3 years ago
Shyam Vedantam
Staff/Commentary

“Neighbors” asks millennials what is cool after having a child. How does this generation transition from young adulthood to adulthood. Are late night raves still an option? Can parents smoke weed or get wasted before coming home to their newborns? Through a comedic viewpoint, these are issues many of this generation is or will be facing.

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play a loving couple who are trying to raise their first, newborn child. They have recently used their entire savings to purchase a new house. Then, a noisy and rambunctious fraternity named Delta Psi Beta, led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco, move into the house next-door. Rogen and Byrne try to play it cool and become friendly with the fraternity, so that the fraternity keeps the partying noise to a manageable level for the baby.

However, as expected from a fraternity, the music and partying cannot be contained. Rogen and Byrne call the police to try to keep the noise down. Efron gets insulted that the couple called the police on the fraternity. Tensions rise and payback tactics from both neighbors ensue.

Director Nick Stoller has a history of mixing comedy with a twang of heart. The standouts in this regard are 2008’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” the Jim Carrey vehicle “Yes Man” and the 2012 romantic comedy “The Five-Year Engagement.” Those films had interesting and new conceits that were used to further their genre. “Neighbors” succeeds similarly.

It’s a fresh take on the revenge premise, and it feels timely. The “i” in Delta Psi is said like how high school chants saw “east side.” There’s an Obama impersonation that signs off with an n-word. The fraternity warns the members of a police raid by “hootie hoo-ing.” That OutKast reference is explained in the film, so don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense on first read.

What really makes this comedy work is the seemingly improvised dialogue and Rogen’s brand of humor. People who want a mix of Rogen’s raunchy humor and Stoller’s emotional input are going to be pleasantly entertained. Those who find Rogen’s low-brow humor annoying are probably not going to have their opinion swayed by this film.

The great surprises in this film come from the comedy by Byrne, Efron, and Franco. Their comedic chops are able to contend with the comedy juggernaut that is Rogen. Efron gets a lot of flak for his previous dramatic roles, but he handles comedy well. A lesser actor might have made the role a caricature, making it obvious who to root for. But his sweetness and simplicity make him endearing. There’s a fist fight scene in the climax of the film between Efron and Rogen that is laugh-out-loud hilarious with its ineptitude.

“Neighbors” should also get credit for improving the women’s role in these male-dominated comedies. Byrne and Rogen get into an argument about who gets to be the party animal that gets into hijinks and who has to be the lame janitor to clean up after that person. She also gets a greatly edited sequence where she orchestrates a scheme to get Efron’s girlfriend to sleep with Franco.

At 97 minutes, “Neighbors” is also fantastically taut. It doesn’t waste too much time in unnecessary second act fall outs between the two teams, but the very existence of these deviations from the main storyline does bog down the film a tad.

“Neighbors” isn’t amazingly quotable or as timeless as “Animal House,” but it has a chance to be this year’s “This is the End.” And to be honest, that is good company.