SXSW Film Review – Neighbors
To call a comedy starring Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, and Zac Efron funny is not much of a story, in fact it is an expectation. Not only are they all proven comedic talents, but they have shown themselves to be incredibly versatile actors across the board. And still the first thing I can think of most as I walk away after seeing Neighbors is that it probably will be amongst the funniest, and most successful, comedies of the year. It definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (I’ve even already spoken to a few that hated it) as it goes for the easy laughs, but for those who like that type of humor, it delivers in truckloads.
The story follows new parents Mac (Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Byrne) as they are forced to deal with their growing up when they are put to the test after a frat moves in next door, led by frat president Teddy (Efron). What follows is a series of low-brow humor gaffes as the two parties attempt to one up each other in a battle of wills.
I’m the first to admit this film isn’t re-inventing the wheel, but there is still a place for shock value-driven comedies in cinema. This isn’t as thoughtful as some of his previous work, but this is a return to form for director Nicholas Stoller (based on a script by newcomers Andrew J. Cohen & Brendan O’Brien) who splashed onto the scene with the massively successful comedies Forgetting Sarah Marshall (previously a SXSW film) and Get Him To The Greek (previously starring Rose Byrne). While he wasn’t quite as successful critically or commercially trying something different in The Five Year Engagement, he did find a small but passionate audience, he has shown that he hasn’t lost anything through his successes and failures. The key to his success has to do with the story within the comedy, in which he gives the characters a humanity and relatabilty regardless of the outrageous activities they get involved with. In this case, the real key in the movie is Rogen and Byrne trying to come to terms with their recent parenthood and giving up their hard partying ways from their youth. The reassessment of life and priorities is incredibly relatable and makes it easy to connect with. It isn’t ultimately the comedy that is most memorable to me after the movie, it is the small character moments, the comedy is just the fun filler, in between.
Coming off of the massive success of This Is The End, the already high bar had been raised for Seth Rogen. It isn’t so much his everyman quality that makes him so appealing, it is his willingness to throw himself into each role. In Neighbors, he completely exposes his vulnerabilities in such a way that even as he makes jokes at his own expense, you feel closer to him, like he really is that good old friend of yours. He is a transitional Seth Rogen, one who soon will be taking over the parental roles in movies and he is beginning to evolve away from the single-guy screwup, much as Paul Rudd has done in films like Knocked Up and This Is 40. This probably doesn’t denote the end of his shock comedy days, but just marks a changing of the framework. If this is the future for Rogen than I’m optimistic about his continued longevity, though I personally really enjoy seeing him in more dramatic capacities.
Even with all the talent in this movie, my favorite part has to be Rose Byrne. Not only does she keep pace with the other actors, she frequently is a force driving the movie. She had already proven that she could get pretty raunchy with Bridesmaids, but she takes it to the next level here. Not only does she have plenty of one-liners, but she happily joins in on the physical comedy, dealing with the challenges of parenting that a young parent would run into. Even if the humor is low-brow, it is cool to see Bryne mixing it up with the rest of the cast, as opposed to playing some second fiddle angry housewife. Plus, it is fun to see her using her real accent since that doesn’t happen too much.
Efron, for his part, is fantastic at embodying the “douchie frat guy.” Clearly he is playing into the joke, but there is an undercurrent about the fear of growing old and his sincere belief in friendship that makes his character more than just a two-dimensional foible to antagonize Rogen and Byrne. If he isn’t enough for you, the frat is filled out by a bunch of other talented comedic actors like Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Dave Franco, who deliver in their smaller parts. Franco, in particular, is doing a good job stepping out of his brother’s shadow and making a name for himself.
Neighbors isn’t perfect; the second half of the movie becomes a bit clichéd, and the heartiest laughs are in the first half, but the sacrifice of constant comedy for the sake of adding some humanity to the story will definitely add replayability as the shock value in the comedy tapers off. It is too early to say if the movie will be amongst the funniest of the year, but it is hard to imagine it not being a contender.