Winning comedy about the frat house next door is as smart as it is stupid.
By Max Weiss. Posted on May 08, 2014, 11:09 am
Like most good comedies, Neighbors is both delightfully stupid and sneaky smart: You’re so busy laughing at all the raucous jokes you don’t notice how insightful it really is.
On the face of it, it’s about a young married couple, Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) with a new baby, who are dealing with the nightmare scenario of a frat house moving in next door. One night, the couple calls the cops to silence a party, it escalates into a game of one-upmanship with frat house president Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), who is positively crazed with testosterone-fueled Greek pride.
But Neighbors is also about that particular time in your life when you’re still young—young enough to want to go to rock concerts and stay out all night and get high with your friends—but you also suddenly have all these responsibilities. Adulthood has basically been thrust upon you.
So amid all the jokes about exploding airbags and sex toys and magic mushrooms, is a very real and human story. Mac and Kelly love each other—their marriage is sweetly and believably real—and they love their (adorably squee-worthy) baby, too. But they miss partying. So they’re torn between a desire to join the bacchanal next door and to silence it.
Seth Rogen, who can convey cuddly menschiness without ever losing his comedic edge, is perfect for this role. And ever since Rose Byrne showed off her chops in Bridesmaids, I’ve wanted to see her as the female lead in a comedy—she doesn’t disappoint. As for Efron, this is his best, and most memorable, work ever. His Teddy is a college underachiever who fears what lies beyond the frat house—so he clings to it with a near-religious zealotry. Efron dials up his perfect abs, his chick-magnet smirk, and his inherent bro-ness to almost hysterical heights. The man commits.
Also funny: Ike Barinholtz and Carla Gallo as the good friends and semi-doppelgangers of Mac and Kelly. A recently separated couple, they’re still in a state of arrested adolescence—and constantly encouraging our protagonists to ditch the baby and come out and play (they also serve as great co-conspirators for Operation Frat House Revenge).
Some of the jokes don’t land—I apparently don’t think the exploding airbag bit is as funny as the producers do (it happens no less than four times in the film)—but most of them do. And by the end of the film, Mac and Kelly have to come realize that their own setup—happy marriage, beautiful child—is actually pretty damn sweet. On top of being sneaky smart, Neighbors is sneaky sentimental, too.
Max Weiss is the managing editor of Baltimore and a film and pop culture critic.