Neighbors (2014)

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Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien

Rated R

Seth Rogen as Mac Radner
Zac Efron as Teddy Sanders
Rose Byrne as Kelly Radner
Dave Franco as Pete Regazolli
Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Scoonie
Lisa Kudrow as Carol Gladstone

As raunchy, R-rated comedies go, Neighbors is a success. While I don’t envision seasoned filmgoers in the Baby Boomers age group embracing this comedy, it plays well to audiences in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. That said, the limited mass appeal comes in the forms of HIV jokes about infants that are in poor taste; I also doubt any woman who has actually experienced the downside of breastfeeding would enjoy watching it trivialized for a cheap laugh. Still, Neighbors is, overall, a funny comedy, sometimes sweet, and with likable characters.

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are young couple with a new baby, Stella (adorable). They live in a nice suburban neighborhood, but they’re none too pleased with the new next door neighbors are revealed to be a fraternity. The trailers and promos clearly indicate the leader of the frat pack is Zac Efron, assaying his second adult comedy role of the year, following That Awkward Moment (unseen by me).

So instead of getting the trendy gay couple as new neighbors, Mac and Kelly (Rogen and Byrne) are gifted with loud reminders of days gone by. Baby Stella exerts their time and energy; Kelly has New Mommy Cabin Fever, and Mac is devoted to, or trapped by, his career. They’re old enough to be past the college years, but young enough to revisit that carefree time of their life: before marriage, children, obligations.

Mac and Kelly try to make nice with Teddy (Efron), Pete (Dave Franco), and the rest of the frat gang, and Teddy is happy to extend a welcome to the new neighbors. But when the frat house becomes too loud and boisterous, an all-stops-out battle begins. I won’t divulge spoilers, but the battle lines range from somewhat predictable to hilarious and creative. And when the film explores the realistic strain on the marriage between Mac and Kelly, it wisely doesn’t spend too much time dramatizing a comedic film.

I like Rogen more and more with each passing role. He’s got his hilarious side (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) and the ability to play the amusing straight man (50/50, The Guilt Trip). Here, he veers between both personas, and it’s an effective culmination. If you’re not already watching, Byrne is an actress to watch. She had a successful five-year stint on the chilling legal drama Damages (on cable television), holding her own against the formidable Glenn Close. She can play a terrified wife and mother amidst the supernatural (the Insidious films), and with Neighbors, she has proven her comedic work in Bridesmaids was no fluke. Bryne is easily the funniest actor in this film.

Efron is acquitting himself nicely in adult roles. After Neighbors, he might be well advised to taking on more roles similar to Me and Orson Welles or At Any Price. As in the The Paperboy, Efron basically stands around and looks good in Neighbors, and every now and then, when the screenplay requires, he is required to act. Surprisingly, he’s a good actor when he given the opportunity. I’d like to see more of that.

I liked Dave Franco as well. He is an adept and capable actor, similar to his ubiquitous older brother James. However, I think the film botched an amusing opportunity at the end; it’s this film’s Awkward Moment between Franco and Efron. You’ll know it when you see it. Lisa Kudrow is an all-too-brief hoot as the college’s dean of students, kind of reminiscent of her role Easy A; a fun reminder that Kudrow is versatile playing broad comedy and satire.

I liked Neighbors, and I even laughed out loud several times. It’s nothing landmark or entirely memorable, like Knocked Up or Bridesmaids, but I suppose it’s the next best thing.

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