The millennial generation is so maturing beyond their age that even their college comedies are about old people. “Neighbors” appeals to the generation that knows they have to grow up but isn’t quite sure how. And although it manages to out-raunch “Animal House” et. al., it feels mature, positive and enthusiastic about the future.
Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne have wonderful chemistry as new parents Mac and Kelly Radner. The movie opens with Mac literally narrating his excitement at having spontaneous sex with his wife in the middle of the day, only to be foiled by their precious baby daughter Stella smiling at them from across the room. This failed attempt perfectly echoes their dynamic, one in which they eagerly try to be great parents and fun, friendly people to their friends and neighbors but end up embarrassing and tiring themselves out at just how hard they try.
Rogen and Byrne are constantly talking over one another in sunny platitudes. Even when they’re swearing and upset they seem incapable of harm, and there’s a great moment when Mac says he’s going to buy a gun and end the life of his neighbors that is so far removed from their cheery demeanor that its almost adorably hilarious.
Mac and Kelly end up directing that anger at their new next door neighbors, the Delta Psi Fraternity and their ring leaders, frat President Teddy (Zac Efron) and VP Pete (Dave Franco). The guys are predictably loud and disturbing to their baby, but Teddy and the frat declare war when Mac breaks a promise Mac made at the Frat’s house warming party: “If we’re too loud, call us before you call the cops.”
The frat’s pranks are relentless and irritating, but Director Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) challenges your expectation about which party is more mature when Mac and Kelly go the extra step by destroying a water mane in the frat house and colluding to get Pete to hook up with Teddy’s girlfriend. After all, what does it mean to be an adult: having a house and child or looking out for your brothers like its the most important thing in the world?
Stoller really could’ve played up the bro stereotypes in everything from dress to dialogue, but he makes Teddy and Pete likable first and earns their bromance along the way. That the film works as a bromance and a romance between Mac and Kelly is part of “Neighbors'” multi faceted charm. But then it also nails the Apatow Production mix of smut and pop culture inanity. A hilariously staged fight scene and bizarre sequences involved frat dildos and breast feeding are as outrageous as anything you’re likely to see, but the frat’s Robert De Niro party, a GIF-ready look at Rogen dancing or Mac and Kelly talking about how they love old people stuff like brunch, seashell soap and the Container Store are just as memorable.
Rogen and Efron might get a lot of passes for just doing what they do, but even Rogen’s persona has matured from where it was just a movie ago in “This is the End.” This is the best chemistry he’s had with a female lead since his dramatic work with Michelle Williams in “Take This Waltz.”
Byrne however is most progressive of all. People are constantly saying we need more movies for women in the vein of “Bridesmaids” when really there just need to be better parts in movies with women. It is so uncommon for the female lead in a comedy to be something more than the straight actor and consistently steal the scene from the boys. Maybe “Neighbors” doesn’t pass the Bechdel test with flying colors, but Byrne gives the most substantive female performance in a guy comedy like this since Katherine Heigl in “Knocked Up.”
“Neighbors” is the college comedy grown up. It’s not snobs versus slobs because for the first time both warring parties are allowed to be snobs and slobs.
3 1/2 stars