Overview: New parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are trying to adjust to parenthood when a fraternity buys the house next door and turns their world upside down. 2014; Rated R; 96 minutes.
What It’s Really About: Neighbors is raunchy, ridiculous, and sometimes cringe-worthy as it earns its hard R rating. It’s filled with intense party scenes, a hell of a lot of weed smoking, and plenty of penis jokes, but it isn’t even close to mindless. Beneath the laughs, Neighbors is a surprisingly poignant film about growing up and facing turning points in life. For Mac and Kelly, a young married couple, it’s about embracing age and learning to be happy in a new stage of life. For Teddy, the president of the fraternity, it’s about taking responsibility and moving forward after college.
Seth Rogen is close to what one would expect as Mac. He’s a goofy, stoner type, but he’s trying to get his act together and come to terms with the fact that his partying days are behind him. Rose Byrne is the film’s unexpected standout. She’s smart and fierce as Kelly, and nearly everything she says and does is aggressively funny. Byrne and Rogen have palpable chemistry and the two portray a young married couple in a realistic and endearing way.
Defying Stereotypes: Surprisingly, more than anyone else, it is fraternity leader Teddy who emerges as the film’s most compelling character. When one young pledge cracks under the pressure of hazing, Teddy pulls him aside, hands him the keys to his room, tells him to go “draw a bath,” and advises him to watch the entire season of Girls he has saved on his DVR. Seriously. Girls. And Zac Efron pulls it off. He really does. Efron delivers his lines with those big caring eyes and it totally works. Teddy never becomes a stereotype. He isn’t just the hot, douchebag president of a frat. He’s a complex guy who feels and doubts and hurts, and his subtle internal struggle to face life after college is as fascinating as Mac and Kelly’s struggle to face true adulthood.
Again, the film defies stereotypes by making Pete, Teddy’s best friend and the vice president of the frat, an intelligent, career-driven student who seems to be the only person who realizes how fleeting and unimportant much of college life ends up being. Dave Franco is consistently fun to watch as Pete, giving him an emotional depth that I wish could have been explored a bit more.
Get to the Good Stuff: At times everything is a little too flashy, and I would have gladly traded a few raging party scenes for more dialogue and genuine character interaction. Neighbors is strongest when it sticks to what works: Rogen, Byrne, Efron, and Franco. Though the parties and occasional cameos were entertaining enough, they weren’t all necessary, and at times I found myself wishing I could skip past them and get to the really good stuff.
Final Thoughts: With well-developed characters and the exploration of universal themes, Neighbors is more than its silly jokes. It’s a comedy with heart, and it’s certainly worth seeing.