This is both credit and critique.
The awful things the characters do to each other are unpredictable and mean and escalate with nightmarish abandon. It’s just that this is not my idea of a fun Saturday night at the movies.
I love me some outre comedies – from Bad Santa to Bridesmaids to this year’s Bad Words – and Neighbors, directed by Nicholas Stoller (writer of the last two Muppets movies!?), is as crass and crude as they come … but mostly the flick just managed to set my teeth on edge with not nearly enough laugh out loud moments.
Whereas the other aforementioned films use their gross out gags in service to the story (and to illustrate the renegade qualities of relatable characters who live in the margins), Neighbors seems to follow the rhythms of a horror movie, seeking to shock and awe rather than to humanize.
The high/low-concept relates the trauma of a young, hipster, entitled couple who move into a precious arts-and-crafts bungalow only to find their new neighbors arrive in a haze of 24/7 fraternity bacchanalia. We all know this couple, portrayed by Rogen (doing that same adenoidal foghorn thing he always does) and Rose Byrne (one of the best things in the spiky enterprise) – a pair of suburban survivalists who overuse words like “awesome,” who brag about their use of recreational drugs while obsessing about the latest Baby Bjorn-parenting-r-us techniques, and who sport t-shirts emblazoned with ironic Gen X catch phrases.
On the other hand, the frat boys, led by alpha wolf Efron and his charming chief lieutenant Dave Franco (James’ brother) are uber-millennials for whom the challenges of college seem to consist of how, who, where, and when to plan their next drug-fueled, techno-soundtracked, social media-documented rager. Sitcom-esque conflict ensues.
Do Byrne’s and Rogen’s characters just want a little peace-and-quiet for their baby daughter or are they caught in a disastrous spiral of trying to stay relevant and “hot” in the eyes of a youth culture that devours its own for breakfast?
There is a potent social commentary buried somewhere in this film, and it glimmers periodically – in the bureaucratic tomfoolery of Lisa Kudrow’s gonzo dean of students whose chief desire is to avoid bad PR and to keep her well-paying university gig or in the dissipated pretty boy bullying of Efron, a dim bulb freaked out that his prince-of-the-campus days are rapidly drawing to a close.
Ultimately, Neighbors captures a sweaty bad dream for those of us caught between our fraternity days and our mortgage-paying mid-life. But it’s chief accomplishment will be in shifting the rudderless career of Efron from bland all-American heartthrob (a role that never quite suited him) to comically creepy, beautiful sociopath. This turn fits him like a glove. Here’s hoping he gets another chance to explore this newfound niche. Goodbye, High School Musical‘s Troy Bolton. And good riddance.
Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.