I had completely written off Neighbors. Coming off of Seth Rogen’s last starring role in This is the End, the first trailer for Neighbors underwhelmed me. I’ve gotten used to Rogen acting, writing, and directing his own films so I was a little concerned when Rogen placed himself in someone else’s film. Was his lack of major involvement going to impact the overall quality of the film? Should you expect less because Rogen didn’t write a lot of it himself?
Thankfully not. Even with some groan inducers, Neighbors is a little smart. It just needs to reign it in a bit.
[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of South by Southwest 2014. It is being reposted to coincide with the film’s wide release.]
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Release Date: May 9, 2014
Neighbors is all about Mac (Seth Rogen) and his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) as they put all of their savings on a new home. When they’re getting comfortable, Teddy (Zac Efron), the president of Delta Psi, moves his rowdy fraternity into the house next door. After Mac calls the cops, Teddy and fraternity fight back, leading to an escalating back and forth prank war.
With a simple premise like this, the film is completely reliant on the strength of its cast to succeed. The raunchier and cartoonish the pranks and arguments get, the easier for them to devolve into some sort of mushy mess. Thankfully, the problems with the film aren’t with the cast. Seth Rogen is essentially every role Rogen’s played (so whether or not you’ve enjoyed him in the past will definitely anchor your enjoyment) with lots of added nudity, and Rose Byrne is as adorable as she always is, but given a layer of sex appeal. Everyone beyond Zac Efron is just playing the same characters they always have before. It’s essentially a negative given we’ve seen that formula used before, but it’s hard to argue against something that works.
The one surprising actor in all of this is Zac Efron. While he’s not exactly given a varied range, he pulls of the fraternity jerk very well. And when the film decides to add layers to characters about midway through the feature, he surprisingly pulls through. Of course there are the standard shirtless scenes, but he’s got some comedic chops that I hope get explored in the future. Only trouble is that while he’s got those chops, they’re still a bit rough. Some of his jokes fall flat, and are notably covered up by his shirtlessness. Given a tighter screenplay, Efron could finally show us what he’s capable of.
That seems to be the main issue in Neighbors. It’s incredibly raunchy (complete with dildo fights and gross sequences), but a lot of it fails to be funny. It tows the line between gross-funny and gross-gross. But that all depends on your personal taste I suppose. I’ll admit, however, one of the jokes is so incredibly disgusting it’s hilarious. It was an odd situation to be in. Besides the raunch, Neighbors has an issue with length. There’s one notable sequence during the prank war which the film will be much better without. It derails the direction and pace, and loses its fun as it drags beyond the borders of its humor.
It’s not a perfect comedy by any means, but it’s still entertaining. Best way to see Neighbors is in a crowd, perhaps a college party as the film so heartily recommends. It looks good (those party scenes are fantastically shot), it’s got plenty of eye candy (Efron’s shirtless at least two thirds of the film), and you may even get a laugh or two. Neighbors isn’t going to redefine how you see comedy, but it does its job.
And most of the time, that’s all you need. A comedy that does its job then goes back home to party.