Anyone going into Neighbors expecting just another Seth Rogen gross-out raunchfest will be surprised; I know I was when I watched it. True, there are plenty of outrageous, ‘R’ rated drug and nudity driven moments throughout the film, but there is also depth to the comedy and a strong theme that runs through the lives of all the characters. It may not seem like it on the surface, but Neighbors offers a lot to think about, once you get past the lactating breasts and dildos.
Rogen and the delightful Rose Byrne (who is becoming a secret weapon in every movie she appears in) play young married couple Mac and Kelly. They have a newborn baby, Stella (the adorable Elise and Zoey Vargas) and put all of their savings into a large, vintage house in a quiet neighborhood. They have high hopes that another young family will buy the home for sale next door to them. Those hopes are dashed when a rowdy fraternity, run by Zac Efron’s Teddy and Dave Franco’s Pete, moves in instead.
At first, it appears as if the frat boys and the mom and dad are going to get along. Mac and Kelly spend a night reliving their college days, and Teddy promises that they’ll keep the noise to a minimum, as long as the cops are never called. You know what happens next. The frat continues to party and one night the cops arrive to break up the festivities. Teddy takes offense and a war of pranks ensues.
You get the gist of this plot from the trailer. What you don’t get is the serious places the script goes in between the hi-jinks. Mac and Kelly, despite their feud with the frat, are pretty responsible parents. The lack of sleep and fear for their daughter’s well-being drives them to the edge of sanity. At one point, they have a brutal argument that results in Kelly leaving Mac with Stella en tow. Even though Mac has a few one-liners to try and lighten the mood, they fall flat, just as would happen in any real marriage. At that moment in the film, I felt Kelly’s pain, as she drove away in tears.
Just as effective is a confrontation between Teddy and Pete, with Pete calling out Teddy about his immaturity and fear of taking the next step after college. Efron and Franco strip away any comedic elements and play the scene as straight drama. It’s a sudden shift in tone, but it plays nicely and demonstrates that both Franco and Efron are capable of much more than the recent material they’ve been given.
Besides the fine cast, which includes Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Ike Barinholtz and Carla Gallo, Neighbors features exceptional filmmaking by director Nicholas Stoller. Not content to give Neighbors your typical, straightforward comedy look (mostly establishing shots and close ups), Stoller experiments with the cinematography and editing, in particular during the party scenes. If Stoller was trying to out do Scorsese in creating the exact feeling of being high on drugs, he comes pretty damn close.
Neighbors has two central themes. The first is family, not your blood relatives, but the people you choose to call family, like friends and spouses. Unlike blood relatives, these relationships require a little more work to sustain. Forgiveness and understanding are essential to the survival of these kinds of families. Neighbors does a great job showing how the lives of the frat boys parallel the lives of Mac and Kelly.
The second theme is adulthood and taking that next step in life. For Teddy and Pete, it’s that fear of leaving college and entering the “real” world of responsibility, jobs and bills to pay. For Mac and Kelly, it’s about leaving your 20s and becoming husband and wife, parents and responsible citizens of the community. By the film’s end, everyone has shown growth, which is quite an achievement for a film that features Byrne spraying Rogen’s face with breast milk from her boobs that are about to explode.
One of the standouts of this past summer, Neighbors is worth your time on Blu-ray. It comes with special features including deleted scenes, an alternate opening, a gag reel, and featurettes that take you behind the scenes with the cast. It also contains a DVD and digital copy of the film.
Neighbors is released by Universal Home Video.