In a classic episode of The Simpsons, Homerpalooza, Homer must confront that he isn’t the cool father he always viewed himself to be. Through this realization, Homer recalls what his father told him years ago, “I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now, what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s it seems weird and scary to me.” The new film Neighbors takes that theme and places it in an inverted slobs vs. snobs, gross-out, revenge comedy.
Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are proud young parents living in an idyllic suburban neighborhood. Working in a quiet office job, Mac is still a stoner that indulges on his breaks. His co-worker and smoking partner, Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz), remarks to Mac, “It seems like you’re 10 years older than everyone.” But Mac and Kelly don’t see themselves changed by the responsibilities of home ownership and parenthood. That is, until a fraternity moves in next door.
At first attempting to maintain civility, the couple offers a joint and introduces themselves to the frat’s president, Teddy (Zac Efron). Their hopes of them keeping the noise down are quickly dashed when the frat throws a loud party. Desperate to not be viewed as uncool, Mac and Kelly go over to the house and end up joining the party. When the sun has risen following an all-nighter, Mac and Teddy make an agreement that noise complaints should be handled personally. There is only one rule: don’t call the cops. Of course, that treaty is quickly broken and leads to an escalating feud between the two houses leaving bruises, bodily fluids, and property damage in their wake.
Director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek), working from a script by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, keeps the film tight, running a crisp 96 minutes. It avoids the traps of keeping gags running on too long, a common problem in films like this. While there are a number of gags dedicated to gross-out moments or genitalia, the actions and situations are entirely rooted in character.
The characters are a brought to life by an all-around excellent cast. Up until this point I’ve never seen a film with Zac Efron, but he honestly surprised me. As a frat leader, he comes across as a deranged cult leader and an unrepentant douche. Efron also brings another layer to the character, showing his arrogance as a mask for his own insecurities. Seth Rogen does little to alter his well-known screen persona, only add another layer – responsibility. Rogen probably provides the most laughs merely from his wordless expression in reaction shots. Other excellent supporting players are Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Jerrod Carmichael as sleazy members of the fraternity, and Hannibal Buress as a laid back police officer steals every scene he’s in.
Even with the male-dominated cast, the star Neighbors is Rose Byrne. She displays incredible balance in her transformation to loving parent desperate to be viewed as a cool mother to her rage-fueled bloodlust for vengeance, and she’s more than capable of providing gross-out gags of her own.
If there’s one area that Neighbors disappoints it’s in that it doesn’t go deep enough into the generational conflict. Seemingly only explored in an entertaining bit about who is their Batman. Rogen and Efron exchange impersonations of Michael Keaton and Christian Bale, Efron showing off an impressive impersonation of Bale’s Bat-growl. But Neighbors isn’t devoid of a point, it’s about growing up. Even if the film didn’t explore the themes of generational conflict to my satisfaction, it’s still a very good comedy that provides numerous knee-slapping laughs.