Comedy Film Review

The Film Review Next Door: Neighbors

May 9, 2014Ben MK

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There goes the neighborhood

By Ben Mk

In case you're wondering, Neighbors isn't a big screen adaptation of the long-running Australian soap opera (even though one of its stars is Aussie actress Rose Byrne). It is, however, the latest film from director Nicholas Stoller, co-writer of The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted, who returns to the R-rated comedy arena with a raucous and raunchy showdown of epic proportions. In one corner: the suburbanites. And in the other corner: the frat boys. But no matter who comes out on top in this comedic battle royal, the real winners are the moviegoers.

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are Mac and Kelly Radner, college sweethearts who have entered an uncharted new phase of their lives. Married with an adorable baby daughter named Stella and a new home in the suburbs, they're desperately trying to reconcile their newfound parental responsibilities with their former carefree lifestyle, while squeezing in some much-needed one-on-one time with each other in the process. It's a constant struggle, especially when their friends, the once-married-but-now-divorced Jimmy (The Mindy Project's Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Bones' Carla Gallo), never fail to remind them of the freedoms they've had to sacrifice.

Whatever progress they're making in their new lives comes to a screeching halt when college fraternity Delta Psi Beta sets up shop in the house next door. Their mission: to make a name for themselves as the hardest-partying fraternity (on or off campus). And it's poised to make Mac and Kelly's lives a living nightmare. Sensing the impending doom about to befall them, the couple try to make nice with the alpha dogs of the frat, chiseled college senior Teddy (Zac Efron) and his best bro Pete (Dave Franco) — building a rapport with them over magic mushrooms and Batman impersonations. Mac and Kelly even come to a mutual understanding with Teddy: to call him with any noise complaints instead of calling the cops. But when Teddy's phone goes unanswered one noisy evening, they're forced to break that promise, landing them in Teddy's bad books and igniting all-out suburban warfare with Delta Psi.

From there on out, the film becomes mostly about the not-so-neighborly rivalry between the Radners and the fraternity, as each side tries to one-up the other in a series of misguided pranks and childish antics. Property is devalued, relationships are nearly ruined, and lives are put in jeopardy, all in the name of ludicrous laughs. But tucked away amid the crude comic mayhem — somewhere between Teddy and his frat brothers molding sex toys in their own image, Pete putting his special ability to "rise to any occasion" to good use, and Mac literally milking Kelly (validating a long-forgotten hypothesis from Meet the Parents) — is a genuinely relatable story about people trying to deal with life crises.

For Mac and Kelly, it all stems from their anxieties about parenthood and their fear of joining the ranks of the socially irrelevant, whereas for Teddy it's the looming uncertainty of life after graduation — with their conflict inching them all one step closer to the realization that life brings change, and that in order to move forward they must change as well. For their part, Rogen, Byrne and Efron excel at portraying the duality of their characters — both their ridiculous idiosyncrasies and their emotional subtleties — lending ample credence to the storytelling. And it's this added depth that ultimately elevates the film above and beyond what might otherwise be considered just another raunchy summertime comedy.

The Bottom Line

Neighbors doesn't just make good on its promise of delivering gut-busting sophomoric humor, it does so a dozen times over. So moviegoers should feel confident that they can check their brains at the door and still thoroughly enjoy it, at least on a purely superficial level. Just don't be surprised if you find yourself truly identifying with its characters along the way. Because for all the other body parts (plastic or otherwise) that find their way on-screen, the film also manages to squeeze a little bit of heart in there as well. [★★★★]

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