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Neighbors

May 9, 2014

Nicholas Stoller has been a part of a lot of interesting projects over the years. His directorial debut, and still best known work, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a very fun and at times surprisingly emotional story about a man getting over his famous girlfriend. Its follow up Get Him to the Greek is a movie that most people swiftly forgot. Since then Stoller has gone on to write/produce several fun films (the new Muppets movies, Five Year Engagement). Neighbors reunites him with fellow Undeclared/Judd Apatow alum Seth Rogen for a film that is more mature than their previous work while at the same time calling back to the juvenile dick jokes that launched a dozen careers.

Neighbors introduces us to new parents Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Byrne) as they begin the new and most traditionally adult chapter of their lives. Like most new parents, they still curse, smoke weed, and have friends that rage all night but the reality of having a child is starting to weigh them down and have a real affect on their lives. For better or worse, they’re actually beginning to accept their new roles in life even if they hate them sometimes.

All of this maturation is disrupted when the rowdy Delta Psi Beta fraternity moves in next door, instead of the lovely interracial gay couple they had been hoping for. The Delta Psis are an interesting bunch lead by President Teddy (Zac Efron), VP Pete (Dave Franco), and rounded out by Scoonie (Chrisoph Mintz-Plasse), Garf (Jerrod Carmichael), and Pledge Assjuice (Craig Roberts). At first, both the fraternity (fearing discipline from the school for their partying ways) and the Radners (afraid they’ll appear uncool) want to stay in each others good graces and so they party together.

That mutual respect is gone after the next party when despite numerous calls to Teddy, the fraternity won’t turn down their music and the Radners call the police. This single act sends the characters into an escalating war of pranks, property damage, and passive aggressiveness that neither side can shy away from. The Radners, seeking escape from the monotony of parenthood and suburban existence, continuously come up with zany schemes to get rid of the Delta Psis. Meanwhile, Teddy’s obsession with his fraternity’s legends and creating a lasting college legacy can’t stop himself. It’s this mutual fear of growing old that provides the emotional core at the heart of the movie that the film occasionally manages to deliver. Most of the time though, it’s just a raunchy hilarious ride with a couple of interesting plot twists.

Like I said, in a lot of ways this might be one of the most mature films Stoller and Rogen have made. A lot is riding on selling Rogen and Byrne as a believable couple and the two give such amazing performances that it does work. For example, the cheery way Byrne sings to her infant about hating all the women at her Mommy&Me class was probably one of the best random gags of the movie for me. At times, we actually feel like they’re a couple teetering on the edge of crisis that is looking for a way to escape from their reality for just one night. If the movie didn’t accomplish that then there would be no movie.

At the same time though the antics of the Delta Psis, and the things the Radners do to screw with them, provide the sort of rapid fire slightly juvenile hits that we’ve all come to expect from the people working on this film. It’s funny, it’s well composed, and the jokes have a very broad appeal. There were few times in this movie when I wasn’t laughing but I ultimately felt like Neighbors misses the mark somewhere.

While there’s definitely strong emotions at the heart of this movie, they never come to the forefront where they could elevate the comedy or drama in a meaningful way. There are scenes where they start to scratch at what’s really going on but then they back off before any of the characters show some true vulnerability. Neighbors lacks depth but it doesn’t seem like that’s because the script failed or the actors were incapable of handling the material. It actually seems like scenes were cut to make sure the movie ended in a brisk 90 or so minutes.

This is especially weird because the movie, while never feeling long, definitely crams a lot of plot into its running time. Everything works, every set up has a payoff, and it’s a very tight film despite all that they do. I can only assume that some executive demanded that Neighbors be less than 100 minutes and that caused it to fall just short of being a phenomenal comedy. If there had just been a little more to chew on, or a bit more insight into the characters, this would easily be the must-see comedy of the summer.

Sadly, that isn’t the case but not being great doesn’t instantly make it bad. Neighbors is a good film that’s definitely worth seeing if you’re a fan of Stoller or Rogen or if you’re just looking for a worthwhile to comedy to watch in the next few weeks. Still, don’t feel bad if you wait for it to come to streaming or on-demand since it’s not something you have to see in theaters.

Which is a shame because it definitely could have been.

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