The 400-Word Review: Neighbors
By Sean Collier
May 12, 2014
With very few exceptions, movies about collegiate hijinks aren’t very good. A group of bros — always, always bros — joins a fraternity, that fraternity is threatened by Stuffed-Shirt Authority, said antagonist is defeated wackily. Weed is smoked. People throw up. There are boobs.
Neighbors, a big-budget frolic from effective comedy director Nicholas Stoller, hits all of those tired notes. Surprisingly, though, it emerges a battered winner. Turns out the long-lost key to farces of this nature was simply to try a bit harder with the writing.
Andrew Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, two first-time screenwriters with miscellaneous experience on the sets of recent hits like The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Talladega Nights, craft better jokes than these pictures usually offer. If there’s a stroke-of-genius maneuver to it, though, it’s an inversion of the tale: in Neighbors, the squares are our heroes.
Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) are a young couple with an irritatingly adorable baby, awkwardly but happily inching towards middle age. They buy an ideal house on a picturesque suburban street — but who’s that moving in next door? Why, a fraternity! The Radners try to buddy up to frat bigwigs Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco,) but when they file a noise complaint, it’s war.
The ensuing prank-off isn’t particularly inventive, though the execution is well-timed. Everything in Neighbors is just a hair more thoughtful than it needs to be. Kelly is actually fleshed-out and allowed jokes of her own, unlike the genre norm. The setups on the frat side play up the unspoken homoeroticism of Greek life, rather than dodge it. And I don’t want to overstate it, but in a shocking development, the film actually seems to have a point.
Rogen’s on-screen persona is a given quantity at this point; as long as he’s in a proper project, he’s likable and frequently funny. Byrne, who was able to show off a bit in the Insidious movies, further establishes the comedic chops she demonstrated in Bridesmaids and Get Him to the Greek.
Most surprisingly, Efron — by no means expected to shine here, or anywhere else — has grown considerable timing and wit since ... just a couple of months ago, when he stumbled in the limp romcom That Awkward Moment. He’s not a star, but he’s a serviceable performer. Like the film itself, Efron certainly might’ve failed, but tried just hard enough to succeed.
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark