Neighbors, called Bad Neighbours in my neck of the woods, is about two parents with a newborn baby who have to deal with a fraternity moving in next door. Right off the bat the film presents you with two likeable and relatable main characters in Seth Rogen’s Mac and Rose Byrne’s Kelly, a couple dealing with some real-world issues: he doesn’t really like his job, she doesn’t like sitting at home all day being a full-time mom, and both miss the old days when they were younger, mostly because everyone around them keeps telling them how old and bourgeois they are. Rogen and Byrne have a strong chemistry together and really make you believe their characters are in a relationship, because the two characters are well-written and, actually, quite alike. The love for their kid is also apparent, even though the movie isn’t afraid to also show the downsides of being a young parent. So, the biggest plus of Neighbors is its two protagonists and the sense of realism to their home life. Unfortunately the rest of the movie is a very mixed affair.
While there’s a very strong central conflict at the heart of the film, family vs. fraternity, the films gets very dull in places and often feels more like a collection of skits rather than a bunch of circumstances that organically spring from the material. It feels loose, contrary to the tight narrative one would expect from a comedy like this. Often the movie stops dead for a joke that really doesn’t have anything to do with the subject matter and most of the time is just a pop culture reference that really isn’t funny because just referencing something isn’t innately funny; it’s what you do with that reference afterwards. There are some very funny scenes though, mostly when the film veers into slapstick territory (look out for a moment with a trampoline and a beer can) or, surprisingly, when Rose Byrne plays against type. In most films and the series Damages she plays the straight character, a good central presence and conduit for the audience. Her supporting part in Bridesmaids showed us some of her talent for comedy, but with Neighbors she really proves she’s not only a great dramatic actress, but also a fantastic comedic one. Her timing is impeccable and because of her skill set she’s really convincing when she flips through her catalog of emotions, something that would’ve felt forced with a lesser actress at work. Rogen is basically just playing another Seth Rogen character, but Zac Efron is the other standout performance: he brings an edge and vulnerability to his frat boy, something that makes surprisingly likeable throughout the film. There are also a couple of moments in which he’s very intense and actually quite scary. It’s quite a feat that he shows this much range with the type of role he’s been given.
Like most comedies, Neighbors tries to communicate a message and it does it quite well when it doesn’t hold your hand and points at it screaming in your ear. But like most comedies it can’t resist the temptation to spoon-feed its lesson to the audience, which make these moments cringeworthy and forced instead of earnest. It’s really a shame because there are some themes that intertwine rather nicely: the frat boys are scared of their future and growing old, while the parents miss their younger days and the fun they had. The fact that Neighbors hits you over the head with this motif, really cheapens its inclusion though and lessens its effect. It’s also quite hard to believe the more poignant moments when so much of the film revolves around the laziest kind of humor: penis jokes, vomit and dildos is where it’s at. Oh, and of course they threw in to gratuitous boob shots too while they were at it.
Nighbors could’ve been great with such a strong central premise and some very strong performances, but instead the end result is just passable: lazy writing, pacing problems and a lack of laughs keep it from being the comedy you’ve been waiting for. 6/10