Who knew that the classic fraternity comedy Animal House would end up looking so tame? Sure enough, in recent years the mega-party comedy genre has brought us on-screen debauchery at entirely new levels. American Pie, Project X, and Superbad (to name a few) have showcased festivities that make the misadventures of Bluto and D-Day seem almost as docile as a Merchant-Ivory pic.
The latest entry in the kegger-to-end-all-keggers field is Neighbors, from director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Not only is it a well-scripted, riotous comedy that will more than satisfy its target audience, it takes things up a notch further with notable performances by Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, and Zac Efron. Yes, that Zac Efron.
Rogen and Byrne play newly-minted homeowners (and parents) Mac and Kelly Radner. Their neighborhood is sleepy and quaint, and they have the peace and quiet they need to keep little baby Stella asleep for more than twenty minutes at a stretch.
That is, until a fraternity moves in next door.
The Radners’ hilariously “hey-we’re-hip-too” meet-and-greet with fraternity president Teddy (Efron) goes relatively well– their one request is only that the college boys “keep it down”. Teddy agrees, if Mac and Kelly promise that they won’t call the cops if things get too loud—they’ll go directly to him first.
But the next night’s house party goes off the rails, and Mac’s several failed phone calls to Teddy lead him to call the cops after all. Alright. War.
Stoller has proven several times that he can take what, on paper, seems like a silly, juvenile bit of shock comedy and turn it into a memorable movie, and he does the same here with Neighbors. At its core it’s just an excuse to ramp up the profanity and phallic jokes to eleven (or twelve. Maybe thirteen?), but when the pot smoke settles, Neighbors emerges as a well-crafted comedy powered by nuanced (yes, really) performances and an actual story with actual character development.
Rogen, who only a few years ago would have been perfectly cast as one of Teddy’s cohorts, perfectly plays the part of the new father who’s not sure he wants to grow up just yet. And he and Byrne offer up unapologetic, no-holds-barred performances that help Neighbors feel entirely real—even as the absurdity (and obscenity) ratchets up and up. And up.
It’s Efron, though, who helps push Neighbors into rare air. I remember saying years ago that he was the only good thing about Garry Marshall’s disastrous New Year’s Eve. I stand by that, and Efron offers further proof here that he’s more than just a High School Musical face (and abs). He and Rogen enjoy great oil-and-vinegar chemistry, and their scenes together are sublimely wicked.
First-time screenwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien do fall prey to occasional frat-party stereotypes, but heck—Neighbors is, after all, just a goofball, drugs-and-beer comedy. It’s the duo’s smart writing and clever gags (including a laugh-out-loud Robert DeNiro homage and a deliciously cringe-worthy “milking” scene) that elevate the film to instant classic territory.