The summer movie season started ramping up in earnest with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 last week, and now we come to the summer comedies. Neighbors is the latest outing from Judd Apatow’s old crew, led by Seth Rogen and further establishing Zac Efron as a major comedic talent. And it plays out pretty much how you’d expect: those who like this kind of thing will find that it’s the kind of thing that they like.
Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Rose Byrne) are trying to settle down into their life. They’ve got an adorable baby and have just sunk their entire net worth into a nice suburban house. Then disaster strikes: a fraternity moves in next door, and the town evidently has no zoning restrictions to stop them.
Mac and Kelly are starting to behave like real, grown-up human beings, but they still want to think of themselves as young and hip, not lame old people. They decide to try playing it cool to convince the frat brothers to keep it down. The fraternity leaders, jocked-out Teddy (Efron) and proto-lawyer Pete (Dave Franco), decide to placate the Radners, inviting them into the party.
But the détente doesn’t last long. Soon enough the parties are too loud, leading to a noise complaint. But pictures from the first night cast suspicion on the Radners, and the brothers curry enough favor with the rest of the neighborhood to keep the pressure off. They’re dedicated to surviving long enough to throw an historic bash at the end of the year, and they’re already under the eye of a dean (Lisa Kudrow) who cares more about avoiding bad press for her school than about enforcing any particular rules — by far the most realistic behavior on screen.
The party scenes provide most of the humor, with all the drinking, drugs and debauchery, but there’s a lot more. The usual strategy here is for the filmmakers to throw anything that they can come up with against the wall and see what sticks, sometimes literally. And about half the time it does, depending on your particular tastes. Rogen really is aging out of his long-extended childhood, so watching Mac carouse is awkward, and there’s what I can only call a “milking” scene that involves weirdly body-shaming prosthetics and goes on way too long. But then there’s the De Niro party, and Rogen and Efron’s big fight scene, and the bits with Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Craig Roberts, and the Radner’s less mature friends (Ike Barinholtz and Carla Gallo), and enough goes right to make up for the things that go very wrong.
Director Nicholas Stoller brings the same kind of manic energy to the production as we saw in his Muppets Most Wanted script, but he lets the cast take the lead, improvising to see what they come up with. This leads to good results in the Anchorman movies, but a mixed bag here, especially when we get long stretches of the cast riffing on a single theme without cutting it down to just the takes that work. If a stoner comedy aims at stoned audiences it might not matter; for the rest of us, good editing makes good movies, and it’s the single biggest missing piece from this team.
Worth It: yeah, if you like raunchy material.
Bechdel Test: fail.