Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Movie Review: Neighbors

Directed by: Nicholas Stoller.
Written by: Andrew J. Cohen & Brendan O'Brien.
Starring: Seth Rogen (Mac Radner), Rose Byrne (Kelly Radner), Zac Efron (Teddy Sanders), Dave Franco (Pete), Ike Barinholtz (Jimmy), Carla Gallo (Paula), Brian Huskey (Bill Wazowkowski), Halston Sage (Brooke), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Scoonie), Jerrod Carmichael (Garf), Craig Roberts (Assjuice), Lisa Kudrow (Dean Carol Gladstone). 

It’s been nine years since Judd Apatow's The 40 Year Old Virgin came out and introduced a number of comedies about grown men still acting like teenagers, who eventually start to grow up with the help of a perfect woman. Some of those comedies are hilarious, but over the years they’ve started to grow a little stale. It may not have been the best career move for Katherine Heigl to badmouth Knocked Up – the one film of her career audiences generally liked – but she wasn’t necessarily wrong to suggest that the women in these movies are not nearly as well defined as the men. Neighbors strikes me somewhat as a missed opportunity on that front – here for the first time, the best, most well defined character in the film is a woman – played wonderfully by Rose Byrne – and yet the movie spends so much time with juvenile males playing juvenile pranks on each other, that Byrne is too often shunted to the background. I would have gladly watched an entire movie centered on Byrnes character – instead I spent far too much time watching Seth Rogen and Zac Efron acting like idiots.

The film is about a married couple with a 6 month old daughter. Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) still view themselves as young and cool, but are facing the reality of all first time parents that they are no longer that version of themselves – they have entered a new phase of their lives that will eventually end with them becoming their parents – which is the last thing they want to be. They are forced to face this fact when a fraternity moves into the house next door, after burning down their last house. Mac and Kelly want to appear cool to these kids – even going so far as to party with the frat on their first night in the house. But soon the parties grow louder, and all they want is to be able to sleep – and to keep their baby sleeping. When they call the cops to complain about the noise one night, they set off a war between themselves and the fraternity’s leader – Teddy (Efron) – a senior who wants nothing more to be a legend in the frats history. He's slowly starting to realize that soon he will be out in the real world and his brothers – like Pete (Dave Franco) will move onto the real world, while Teddy, who barely attends class, will be left behind.

There are seeds of good ideas in Neighbors. There are not a lot of movies about young parents dealing with the fact that their youth is over, and now they have to be responsible parents. There are even fewer movies about college life where the students have to have to deal with the fact that they have to grow up as well. A good movie could mine this material to make a smart comedy about these two crossroads in people's lives.

Unfortunately, Neighbors doesn’t seem too interested in exploring these transitions. Instead, the film simply devolves into a series of pranks and counter-pranks between the frat and the parents. The movie twists itself into knots to ensure that Mac and Kelly have nowhere to go with their complaints (which isn’t remotely realistic) – but it’s one of those things you simply have to accept and move on. Some of the pranks are actually kind of funny – but for the most part, I didn’t really laugh out loud at any moments in Neighbors – although it did induce more than a few smiles. Rogen is essentially playing his typical self, although his slight move towards maturity is welcome, even if he’s not too much more mature. Efron continues his quest to try and do something other than his typical teen idol stuff – and shows he has the goods, even if the movie doesn’t much use him as well as it could.

Best of all is Byrne, who is the only person in the movie playing something resembling a realistic person. Her character allows her to get down and dirty with the boys – which is a nice change from what I would normally assume would be a nagging wife role (where she’s stuck complaining about Rogen's need to grow up) – but even when she does the juvenile stuff, it seems to be coming from a more realistic place. I could have done without what is one of the movies biggest laughs – the boobspolition if you will – essentially because I didn’t find it very funny, although Byrne is game for that too.

To me, I think Neighbors represents at least a slight move in the right direction for Rogen, director Stoller and the Judd Apatow era of comedy movies in generally – finally acknowledging that eventually everyone has to grow up. Unfortunately, the movie gets bogged down in the juvenile crap, and shunts everything interesting about the movie off to the side.

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