Neighbors is a delightfully crass comedy that is – get this – actually about something.
Looking around at our popular culture, one can easily come to the conclusion that my generation (which I think might be Gen-Y, although I’m often lumped in with Generation X) has taken over the world; You can be sure that the Baby Boomers weren’t interested in four complete live-action Transformers feature films. As such, we are mired in our own adolescence, trotting out every superhero, cartoon show, and ninja turtle that our little hearts once desired and perhaps still do. Oddly enough, it is only in our crass, R-rated comedies that Gen-Y openly admits to its staunch refusal to grow up.
Look at the works of Judd Apatow, for example. Most of his films are typically about overgrown boys who are staring down the barrel of actual adulthood, finding that they have to start behaving like a grown-up, or be doomed to a life of pathetic pity. Perhaps there is a point in my life, the heroes typically say to themselves, that I need to put down the bong and the beers and actually, y’know, settle down.
Nicholas Stoller’s Neighbors is about two groups of people who are facing the extinction of their youthful cool, and trying to come to peace with it through increasingly destructive (and perhaps increasingly cathartic) revenge antics. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play a married couple of recent parents in their early 30s who are determined not to let domesticity get in the way of their self-perceived cool. They comment openly that they’re not going to be the boring grown-ups, perhaps in a fit of fear; They are the only ones of their peer group to have a kid and a home. They dared to settle down into adulthood, and that seems to secretly terrify them.
And who should move in next door but Zac Efron, frat boy par excellence, whose newly-opened frat house is determined to throw the Bash to End All Bashes. The film is entirely about the couple and the frat boy at odds with each other’s living arrangements (please, kids, just keep it down), but eventually the tactics to “get at” the other become increasingly caustic. At first, Efron’s character seems like the typically gorgeous, cocksure young buck who never experiences a hangover, but as Neighbors progresses, we begin to see that he may not have much of a future after college. Both he and his married neighbors are now facing the very real possibility of leaving their party life behind.
And all of this is told in a mercifully funny, quick-witted comedy of deft humor, golden timing, and interesting characters. Rogen improvises with the best of them, and Efron – often pegged a pretty boy, but truly a talented young actor – finally seems comfortable with this sort of material (he was decidedly not at his best in the pretty awful That Awkward Moment from earlier this year), constantly proving himself to be adept at comedy. Rose Byrne nearly steals the show as the quietly panicking mom who is allowed to be a complete character and not just a nagging shrew.
So by the time cop cars are exploding, and Efron and Rogen are fencing with dildos, everything has built to a meaningful and hilarious head of steam, and it’s hard not to breathe a big sigh of relief and settle back into the warm fact that you’re enjoying yourself. I have seen many comedies recently, few of which are actually funny. Neighbors is funny, dammit. And it has something to say as well. Bully on it.
Rating: 3.5 Burritos