Modern comedies have become a lot like the week after Spring Break when you were in high school. Your friends regaled you endlessly with tales of their alcohol-induced adolescent adventures. They acted out their tales of debauchery and reveled in how crazy everything got and how they all nearly got arrested. There was just one problem for the folks who weren’t there: None of it was funny. Being rude and crude in real life or on film doesn’t necessarily make for a quality comedy. Taking Porky’s and amping the raunch factor up to 11 doesn’t always equal laughs.
Sure, some films break out of that mold and produce a memorable comedy. But, for every Hangover I and 21 Jump Street, audiences have to sit through We’re the Millers, 21 and Over, and That Awkward Moment. Remember when comedies were based on characters and not bodily functions? It makes me long for the days of actual comedic writing from folks like James L. Brooks (Broadcast News) and Neil Simon (The Goodbye Girl).
That said, Neighbors, the new comedy from Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, is neither overly witty nor completely brain-dead crudity. It is a mixture of the two. There are many laughs to be found in the script and in the performances. But, they are countered by the requisite moments of lazy dirty humor that R-rated comedies demand in the 21st Century. Consequently, the film is a bit uneven, but in a cinematic landscape with so many bad comedies on offer, it’s worth your time if you’re looking for a few laughs, big and small.
Mac and Kelly Radner (played by Rogen and Rose Byrne) are married with a new baby and have invested their life savings in a home in a nice, quiet neighborhood. All is well until Teddy Sanders (Efron) and his fraternity brothers move into the Animal House next door. Wild parties ensue at deafening volume and leave everything from beer cans to used condoms on the Radners’ lawn. The young couple decides to show the undergrad Greeks that they can be cool by hanging at the frat and partying with the youngsters.
When the revelry never ends and sleepless night follows sleepless night, Mac and Kelly take the lame way out and call the police, earning the Wrath of the Frat. As one prank begets another, the situation devolves into all out neighborhood warfare. Mac conspires to have the fraternity dissolved by the college administration while Teddy and his brothers do their best to drive the Radners out of their home.
The script from Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien is wittier than you might expect, but the comments on marriage, the lifestyle upheaval that first children bring and aging past your partying days may fly right over the heads of the teens and 20-somethings who are the target demographic for the film. At one point when a pair of minor characters reconcile, the woman says “Let’s have a baby” to which the man earnestly replies “That might solve our marital problems”. I was the only one laughing in the theater.
Neighbors bowed to a $19.5 million debut on Friday, just a bit less than comedy mega-hit Ted made on its opening day in 2012. Despite the box office bonanza, the biggest winner after the cash has been counted may be Zac Efron. Neighbors is his opportunity to leave sappy romances and musicals behind and enter the bigger leagues of bromance leading man, and he makes the most of it. Equal parts funny, scheming and sympathetic, he brings an unexpected humanity to Teddy Sanders, a man-child who may be worshipped by the pledges, but knows his glory days are fading and graduation is looming. It’ll be interesting to see what the young actor does with a higher Hollywood profile.
Neighbors avoids being one of those crude comedies that morphs into a sentimental film in its final act. It does have a heart and little bit of depth behind the jokes, but it avoids preaching. The best comedy is based on moments we can all identify with, events that we may not talk about with our friends and family, but life occurrences that eventually find us all. Neighbors could have used more of those moments and a little less improvised hijinx, but overall it’s a decent time at the theater.
7.8 out of 10
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.