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Neighbors (2014)
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by Brett Gallman

"Zac and Seth Make a Movie, Bro"
4 stars

Nicholas Stoller's "Neighbors" hinges on a deceptively simple marquee bout: frat bros in one beer-soaked corner, finicky, older neighbors in another, more domesticated corner. Watching the two sides collide is a suitably riotous occasion, ripe with increasingly dangerous pranks and dildo battles, but it's Stoller's willingness to find an affecting through-line in all this chaos that elevates Neighbors" above many debauched celluloid frat parties.

There's another clever hook beyond the matchup--as it turns out, Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) aren't exactly old fogies but rather a young couple struggling with their plunge into adulthood. Between a new house and a new baby, they've seemingly aged much faster than their friends. When a local fraternity moves in next door, the two don't immediately see it as a problem and welcome Delta Psi with a joint and a friendly reminder to keep the noise down to acceptable levels.

Deep down, the two realize they're longing for the frat's acceptance, going so far as to indulge in an all-night rager while their baby sleeps next door. Eventually, though, the constant, noisy revelry proves to be too much for Mac and Kelly, they're forced to call the cops, an act that stands as an unspeakable betrayal for Delta Psi leader Teddy (Zac Efron), who vows to wage war on his new neighbors.

I never had the slightest inclination to join a frat while in college, perhaps because, deep down, I knew the experience would never measure up to the college comedies that shaped my perception of what higher education should probably be. If "Neighbors" were just a raunchy frat movie, it would join the roster of movies that make college seem fucking awesome. The Delta Psi boys want to be nothing less than legendary, and their delirious keggers and insane prank war earn them the distinction, at least in cinematic terms. Efron is a revelation as their pack leader as he oozes smarmy, douchey charm throughout--you can see why Mac is equally in awe of and threatened by this Apollo cast in a bronze of Axe body spray.

An early scene finds him rallying his troops and swearing to raise all sorts of hell, and the script obliges with ample hijinks, most of which arise from their clash with the Radners. The feud escalates from "dangerous" to "criminal" to "downright horrifying" pretty quickly, and the script is unafraid to plumb some black-hearted depths--this is the sort of film that has HIV and rape jokes, among others (and I can't be sure that I didn't miss some buried under the audience's frequent laughter). Making this sort of stuff not resemble the work of sociopaths can be tricky, but Stoller deftly straddles the line between insane, crass debauchery and good-natured shenanigans. In a film divided between youth and age, Stoller and company definitely abide by the former; in the end, "Neighbors" feels harmless, which isn't to say it's forgettable fluff--simply that it's another bro-movie with a heart of gold when it comes to its uncouth brand of humor.

It helps that the film doesn't brand anyone as an asshole, nor does it ignore the internal conflicts driving the neighborly skirmish. The Radners aren't insufferable buzzkills and seem to relish the opportunity to revisit the reckless abandon of youth. For Rogen, this is a natural fit allowing him to lapse into his usual, shaggy shtick, a routine that still resonates'he might be our best man-child working today because he rarely resorts to exaggerated caricatures. There's a hint of grounded authenticity to him here especially, as his uneasiness about adulthood is especially resonant with someone like myself, who just turned 30 and is goddamned terrified about it.

Rogen's turn isn't all that surprising, but I love that Byrne gets to hang right in there with him and even steal the show at times. Most films would cast her as the nagging shrew, but "Neighbors" makes a point of skewering this trope. At times, she's practically a general devising devious plans to break Delta Psi, and she's genuinely hilarious while doing so. As a couple, the Radners refute the notion that adulthood and parenthood completely suck the life out of you, even if their anxieties are sometimes well-founded (there's a great scene where the two plan to take their baby to a rave but poop out before they can even make it out of the door).

Most surprising is the film's commitment to Teddy; again, another movie might paint him as a reckless, callous frat boy, but "Neighbors" digs beyond the facade and takes stock of his anxieties surrounding the end of his (spectacularly wasted) college career. If his counterpart is a manchild in recession, then Teddy is well on his way to a similarly arrested development; in Mac, he sees an inevitability, so his petty spat with the Radners suddenly feels like something of a holy war where the swords have been replaced by his frat mates' incredible dicks (Dave Franco and the seemingly immortal Christopher Mintze-Plasse are both well-endowed Deltas). Efron's turn is remarkably nuanced as he glides between zealous, meat-headed party animal and self-aware, conscientious bro. I liked him just as much as the Radners, which is the obvious key to "Neighbors": it's a film that shows affection for all of its characters, including the Randers' oblivious buddies (Carla Gaddo and Ike Barinholtz).

There's something admirable in a film that manages to do that even as it's staging raucous, non-stop lunacy. At 96 minutes,
"Neighbors" avoids the bloat of Stoller's previous efforts, and there's a manic verve to it that especially recalls "Get Him to the Greek." A recap of Great Moments in Delta Phi History is essentially a collection of sketches that double as a nod to the film's place in the frat movie canon, and the party sequences are mesmerizing peers into an untamed rowdiness reminiscent of the delirium found in "Project X." Thankfully, Stoller is much more interested in the spaces between the revelry, as he knows when to let the cast hang loose and improvise (one scene finds Efron and Rogen hashing out their generation gap by debating Batman, and it's very, very funny).

The appeal in "Neighbors" rests in its perceptiveness: the bros of Delta Phi are who we wish to be, but most of us are destined to be the Radners, so the tiff between the two feels like a battle for our eternal souls, sort of like Bergman with beer bongs. I like that the film essentially splits the difference--you can have your suburbs and blow them up too.

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originally posted: 05/09/14 14:02:25
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 SXSW Film Festival For more in the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/30/16 morris campbell not as funny as it thinks it is 2 stars
11/11/15 Danielle I loved this movie!! I found it pretty funny. 4 stars
12/21/14 mr.mike The movie runs 90 minutes. It seemed like 90 days. 2 stars
5/16/14 Toni Peluso Awful.. maybe I'm curmudgeon, but not funny at all... 1 stars
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  09-May-2014 (R)
  DVD: 23-Sep-2014


  DVD: 23-Sep-2014

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