Tuesday, May 13, 2014

NEIGHBORS Is More Than Just Frat House Humor


- Director Nicholas Stoller outdoes himself with Neighbors - a movie so effortlessly funny and so economically made that it's not just eminently watchable, but totally re-watchable as well. I actually saw the movie in theaters twice (something I almost never do), and it was just as good the second time around (cue the "Step By Step" theme song). The writing is sharp, the cast is at their best, and there's something here for everyone. The movie zips by, and the humor rarely lets up. Even better, this is a smart movie, and there's more to it than just frat-bro humor. Rarely in a comedy is each and every character multifaceted. But somehow, Neighbors has no real villains. It equally sympathizes with its frat-boys and with the new parents they torment.

NEIGHBORS stars Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as the aforementioned new parents. They've just moved into a new house, and are looking forward to starting their adult lives with their new baby. But then, a frat house, led by Zac Efron and his right hand man Dave Franco, moves in next door. Suddenly, the fun young couple has to be the no-fun narcs who've got to ask Efron and his crew to, you know, keep it down. But Efron - as frat leader Teddy - appeals to the part of Rogen and Byrne that still think of themselves as cool, down-for-whatever young 'uns. He invites them into the frat house and lets them join the party. Wanting to be the cool neighbors, the couple agrees. But soon, the noise and craziness of the frat prove too much. Cops are called, tempers flare, and Rogen and Byrne find themselves at war with the frat brothers that just keeps escalating, to great comic effect.

We know Rogen is funny, and that few do deadpan stoner humor like he does. But the real breakout here has got to be Rose Byrne. She's hilarious. Her comic timing is second to none, and what's more, her character sort of steals the movie. A lot has been written about how rarely female characters in this sort of comedy seem like fully fleshed-out people. And how it's even more rare for the women in these films to get any of the really good jokes. But Byrne gets a lot of the movie's funniest lines, and she makes the most of it. Plus, her character is just fun. The film could have easily cast her as the usual nagging wife, but refreshingly, she's just as goofy and prone to do stupid stuff as Rogen.

Meanwhile, Efron is surprisingly game for all of the over-the-top stuff that the movie throws at him. He's not afraid to be the butt of many jokes, and he has some really funny moments. Again, his character is helped by the fact that he's not just one-dimensional. Sure, he's a hard-partying frat-boy, but he's also got some issues that may explain why he's so determined to throw the ultimate, history-making party to end all parties. In addition, there's some really funny stuff between Efron and Dave Franco, with Franco as the wise one who sees the light at the end of the collegiate tunnel.

Another real show-stealer though is Ike Barinholtz, as Rogen's friend Jimmy. Barinholtz has some amazingly funny lines and is another big breakout. Some other welcome turns from Lisa Kudrow and Chritopher Mintz-Plasse (who utters one of the funniest utterances of "Yolo!" ever spoken) help to fill out the cast. Oh, and there's a great, extended montage of great moments in the history of frat-culture in which each era's flashback is acted out by a different comedy troupe. I won't spoil who shows up, but there are some awesome cameos.

The movie is anchored by some excellent comedic performances, and overall, it's just an incredibly tightly-made film. The script is sharp and filled with both great dialogue and moments of really funny physical comedy (the Rogen vs. Efron dance-off is, truly, one for the ages). And Stoller shoots the film with a ton of style and energy. The big, showpiece frat-party scenes are neon-lit spectacles, with a sort of into-the-mouth-of-hell trippiness that gives them a mesmerizing, psychedelic vibe. Overall, the movie just has a great energy. There are no dull or wasted moments.

And hey, amidst all of the crazy humor and prank-war shenanigans, the movie actually does a pretty nice job of sort of commenting on things like accepting one's adulthood, and the futility of trying to cling to eternal adolescence.

Don't worry though, NEIGHBORS doesn't lay anything on too thick. Mostly, it's just funny as hell. This is a no-wasted-motion comedy that straight-up delivers the laughs. Rogen and Byrne nail it. And Stoller again proves that he is one of the best comedy directors working today. So go watch it. And re-watch it. You may not be able to relive your wild n' crazy youth, but this is a movie well worth revisiting.

My Grade: A-

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