When it comes to frat-house based films, there are certain expectations (parties, sex, (possible) nudity and some gross-out humor) that come with them. When it comes to a Seth Rogen comedy, there are certain expectations (lovable doofus-style antics, marijuana use/jokes and some gross-out humor), that come with them. So by mixing these two ingredients together, the resulting product will inevitably carry with it a high amount of expectations, which in the case of Neighbors, delivers on every one of them. The problem is, by giving us everything, the end result is exponentially weakened.
Seth Rogen plays Mac Radnor, a party guy who has traded in his former life for his wife, Kelly (Rose Byrne), their new baby and their new home. Though the couple love their child, as any new parents would, they still feel as if they have lost something in the transition from free spirits into responsible adults. They want to continue to go out and have fun, experience life and keep their sex life spicy, but with an energy-sucking baby in the mix, priorities must change, whether they like it or not. So when a fraternity moves in next door, confusion sets in — how far will they go to sacrifice the love they have for their carefree ways for the love of their daughter?
In any type of frat-house film, there needs to be a rival, and Mac’s turns out to be the president of the fraternity, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), who is also at a crossroads: he wants to make a name for himself before leaving his college days behind. He will do whatever’s necessary to get his picture up on the wall of fame, but to do so may end up closing down the fraternity for good, as the more bad press they receive the less likely the school will allow them to participate as a fraternity. They did only move to their new location because they accidentally burned down their last house.
Rogen and Efron are great together on screen; they have an easy-going camaraderie that isn’t forced. But when you take a closer look at their characters, they end up being one and the same. They both feel they’re losing a part of themselves, so in order to navigate these unfamiliar waters, they overcompensate in the way they deal with each others priorities. Usually this would be fine, as each will learn a respectable life-lesson about growing up and taking on responsibility. But this is on the surface a competitive comedy, which means there can be only one “winner.” It was in deciding who to root for that ultimately lost me.
Mac is nice guy who wants to do right by his family, a trait made clear by the way Rogen represents him. As with a lot of Rogen’s characters, he’s a goofy, lovable teddy bear who likes to have fun, but understands the value in nurturing a responsible lifestyle. On a more specific level, Mac knows how precious his child is, and only wants what’s best for her and his family as a whole. However, throughout the course of the movie, there were times I hoped someone would call social services for how neglectful he and Kelly are. They don’t show the baby often, and I had to wonder at times if they even really had one. Based on their antics and the way it seems they occasionally ignore her existence, I’m not really sure.
Then there’s Teddy, who the filmmakers want you to believe is your typical frat house douche — the one you want to see destroyed no matter what and cheer when he gets his comeuppance. But wait… is he really a douche, or is he only that way because of his fear of reality that’s slowly creeping in. Is the only reason he’s fighting Mac because he sees himself in him in ten years? It’s hard to tell with Efron, who on his own is so charismatic and likeable, that it’s really hard to hate him. He’s a lovable douche, so to speak, and at some points, I found myself rooting for him over Mac.
This back and forth of who should come out on top eventually got tiresome, which probably stems from the way it was put together. If the film had as many laughs as it did dick jokes, I may have been more responsive to its inconsistencies. But aside from a couple of inspired sequences sprinkled throughout (the one that stands out the most being the milking scene), the rest of the film falls incredibly flat. It’s a been-there-done-that flavor of frat-house humor that’s made all the more insipid due to the way it’s written and edited. It almost felt as if the writers (Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien) sat around coming up with a bazillion ideas and refused to part with any of them, forcing director Nicholas Stoller to shorten the majority of them into five-second sound bites, keeping a few in tact, and ignoring certain aspects of others.
The lack of character development beyond the main attractions (who I will say were given more depth than I thought possible) didn’t help either. It’s easy to see that the writers did give the characters meaning (at least in their original breakdowns), however I think they forgot to include that meaning in the finished product. The most apparent of these is Dave Franco’s Pete, Teddy’s best friend and protege, who actually went to class and studied because he understands there’s more to life outside of the college experience. At one point, he gives a big speech about this concept to Teddy, but because we weren’t given the chance to know him outside of the frat-house mentality, the speech lands with nothing more than a whimper instead of the rousing applause it deserved.
Most movies that center around a fraternity deal with the internal antics of the frat house itself, or deal with the rivalry between two competing fraternities, so I give points to the filmmakers for taking the risk of trying something new with the formula. But they did so without a whole lot of fresh ingredients, ending up with a stale, partially uncooked stew that might seem enjoyable at first, but after a few bites, just isn’t what you were ultimately hoping for. It was far too little, with not enough stakes, and in the end, it just didn’t deliver the right amount of laughs for the money.
My Grade: B-
Next week, new movies include Godzilla and Million Dollar Arm. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.