Monday, May 12, 2014


Dir. Nicholas Stoller

3.5 out of 5

The style of "slobs v. snobs" comedy that flourished in the late '70s and early '80s - thanks to classics like John Landis’ Animal House and Harold Ramis’ Caddyshack, not to mention countless emulators and imitators - placed its sympathy squarely with the slovenly underdogs, maintaining that to avoid becoming a punchline one had better avoid growing up as long as possible.  Nicholas Stoller's raunchy Neighbors cleverly complicates this blueprint by making its prototypical slobs - a raucous group of fraternity brothers headed by the charismatic Teddy (Zac Efron) - more snob-like while simultaneously presenting their foils next door - new parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) - as less-than-perfect caretakers who have no qualms about firing up the occasional joint.

After Mac and Kelly spend their nest egg on a house for their young family, they're determined to preserve their investment, as well as their newfound sense of responsibility, when the brothers of Delta Psi turn the neighboring address into a nonstop noise factory.  Despite initial friendly relations, it doesn't take long before Mac interferes with Teddy's mission to establish himself as one of the frat's most legendary members - a roster that includes the apocryphal inventors of the toga party and beer pong.

An entire school year of one-upsmanship ensues, with Mac and Kelly first trying to create a rift between Teddy and his best friend Pete (Dave Franco), then attempting to get the Delta Psis to accumulate the necessary "three strikes" to lose their charter.  Neighbors doesn't try to belabor the point here.  The majority of the film is a slugfest between equally immature Machiavellis committed to psychological warfare: in the movie's most memorable prank, Delta Psi steals the airbags from Kelly's car and rigs them to send Mac soaring into the ceiling whenever he sits in the wrong chair.  It’s devastatingly cruel...and also pretty darn hilarious.

Still, even bros have to graduate sometime, and Teddy's realization that his petty dickishness won't help him get a job triggers a full-blown existential crisis.  And true to its reshuffling of the slobs vs. snobs template, Neighbors tries to cultivate sympathy for both sides to mixed results.  The on-the-nose dialogue about growing up and coming to terms with reality lingers uncomfortably next to the movie's ribald, over-the-top humor, as if the prior enjoyment of weed and dildo jokes requires the consumption of thematic vegetables.  

Thankfully, Stoller doesn't dwell on it very long.  A former Judd Apatow protégé (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five Year Engagement) with a tendency to let his otherwise cracking comedies get long in the tooth, he shows that he's learned when to trim the fat while still finding the time to highlight scene-stealing contributions from the likes of Ike Barinholtz (as Mac's enthusiastically vindictive co-worker/friend) and Jerrod Carmichael (as a laid-back Delta Psi bro with an adorably guileless charisma).  One of the most well-intentioned filmmakers in the current comedy scene, Stoller keeps succeeding by making a fool out of everyone, slobs and snobs alike.

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