Review: Seth Rogen & Zac Efron Are Raucously Funny in 'Neighbors'
by Ethan Anderton
May 7, 2014
While Seth Rogen has made a reputation for being this irresponsible, weed-smoking, party-man of the people, at some point, that image along won't always work as the actor ages. Thankfully, the actor is keenly aware of this fact and has chosen to grow up ever so slightly with his latest comedy Neighbors. In the film, Rogen plays new parent Mac who, along with his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne), are struggling with being married a few years out of college with an absolutely adorable new baby girl. Despite being unable to partake in their friends' party lifestyle any longer, they do their best to settle into their new suburban house. All goes well until a fraternity, led by charming douche-bro Teddy (Zac Efron) moves in right next door.
What's great about Neighbors is that the battle between responsible parents and loud partying fraternity brothers isn't as black and white as the same comedy would be if it were made in the 70s or 80s. Instead, Teddy isn't painted as a flat out, pinhead of a college kid, and Rogen isn't suddenly the flawlessly responsible father as the film's trailers might have indicated. There's an attempted camaraderie between the brothers of Delta Psi Beta and Mac & Kelly until one desperate call to the cops truly hurts and betrays the friendship Teddy thought was forming after a mushroom and alcohol fueled night of partying brought.
While the trailers paint this epic prank war (and believe me, there are some great stunts pulled on both sides), there's a much meatier battle beyond the surface pranks. This is helped by the fact that the main cast of fraternity brothers aren't left to be two-dimensional cronies of the Greek system. The audience never really dislikes Zac Efron as the ripped fraternity president or his ambitious and semi-responsible vice president Pete (Dave Franco). They're fleshed out as real characters just as well as Rogen and Byrne to the point that some of the pranks on the grown up side of the fence feel a little too extreme a punishment, especially when it threatens to get the brothers kicked out of school. My only complaint stems from a bit of awkward pacing in the middle where the pranks seem to unfold in too isolated a fashion with limited real world consequences, but it's very easy to overlook this small flaw.
Much of the overwhelming success in storytelling comes from a script by that has just as much heart as hilarity. First-time screenwriters Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O'Brien have turned in a script that feels right in the wheelhouse of Judd Apatow and Adam McKay, and on par with the films that Rogen and Goldberg now write and direct themselves. And to that end, it allows for the same kind of improv that Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek director Nicholas Stoller clearly supported on set for maximum quality comedy. Stoller has put together a film that is outlandish without ever becoming completely unbelievable or silly, and that can be hard to do with a premise like this.
The truly surprising and impressive piece of this hysterical puzzle is Zac Efron. The actor has shown comedic promise in films like 17 Again and That Awkward Moment (even if the latter was a bit of a disappointment as a whole), but the former High School Musical star goes full tilt in this flick, showing he can run with the comedy bull that is Seth Rogen. Not only is Efron a worthy adversary, but it never seems like he's reaching too far or trying too hard to keep up with Rogen or other comedy experienced co-stars like Dave Franco or Christopher Mintz-Plasse.
Speaking of which, the smaller supporting characters add a very hefty amount of comedy to the proceedings. Franco is the next biggest part of the fraternity side of things, with a special skill that must be seen to be believed, and he gets to shine even more than he did in 21 Jump Street. The rest of the fraternity brothers all have their moments for big laughs, especially Mintz-Plasse, who has blossomed from being discovered as McLovin in Superbad to being a staple comedy character actor. Plus there's greatness from comedian Jerrod Carmichael proving that he needs to be in more big screen comedies, and Submarine star Craig Roberts on that same page as a fraternity pledge with an unfortunate nickname (we won't ruin it).
Meanwhile, Carla Gallo (Superbad) and Ike Barinholtz ("The Mindy Project") help out Rogen and Byrne in their attempt to destroy Delta Psi Beta. The latter is a scene stealer who leaves you wanting more with such great timing and delivery. And what's great about the battle on this side is that Rose Byrne isn't merely left as a female spectator watching her husband have all the fun. Since she's just as stir crazy about being a stay-at-home mother and trying to maintain a bit of her younger lifestyle, she gets just as caught up in some of the sabotage partying and war with the frat brothers. One such instance results in a truly painful consequence for the nursing mother after a night of heavy drinking.
Neighbors is the perfect summer comedy, delivering big laughs from a riotous war of mother and father versus brothers. Seth Rogen and Zac Efron make for an uproarious comedy duo that works just as surprisingly well as Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street. With a script that feels fresh, funny and not too bombastic, director Nicholas Stoller has succeeded in crafting a side-splitting battle for the ages. Neighbors is raunchy with plenty of dick and weed jokes, but not overwhelmingly so, and it has a warm bromantic heart at its core.
Ethan's Rating: 8.5 out of 10
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