When done right, as Neighbors is, the gross-out R-rated comedy is immensely satisfying. Actor Seth Rogen has been at the center of quite a few of these movies over the past few years. He’s a master of comedic improv and spinning crude humor into a tapestry of flowery profanity that makes you laugh as much as you cringe. Here he teams up with fellow funnyman director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), who understands the pacing of a raunchy comedy, and how to get the most of his actor’s innate abilities to improvise.
I don’t want to read too much into Neighbors because it’s mostly surface hijinks which simply happen to be very clever. Though, there is this undercurrent running through it that those who’ve moved onto different stages in life — like getting married, having kids — are always looking over the proverbial fence at the partying youngsters, wondering what could’ve been had they not settled down.
Mac (Rogen) is a young father. He’s married to Kelly (Rose Byrne). They’ve just spent their nest egg on a quaint suburban home; a place to raise their infant daughter. There’s plenty of trees, sidewalks and elderly neighbors. It’s a perfectly quiet place for a budding family to lay down its roots. But its proximity to the local college is its downfall. Not too long after Mac and Kelly move in, the house next door is sold to a fraternity.
Teddy (Zac Efron) is the buff fraternity leader. He’s all smiles and abs. Mac is instantly drawn to the coolness Teddy exudes. So much so that at first he’s willing to forgive how loud they’re being simply because fitting in with the cooler, younger crowd seems so enticing. But it isn’t long before the paternal instincts take over, sending Mac and Kelly into revenge mode. The fraternity is, well, a fraternity. Mac and Kelly, are tired, middle-class parents without time or energy to spare. They desperately need their sleep. It’s a powder keg waiting to blow.
Where “Neighbors” excels is when it’s simply jumping from one shenanigan to the next. Teddy and Mac trade blows as each one tries to one-up the other. Schemes are formulated. Plans are hatched. Laughs are had.
Efron, when he’s not a leading man in a sappy drama, has energetic charisma. Much like Channing Tatum, Efron has been pegged as the sexy heartthrob over and over, but their real callings as actors can be found in comedy. Although, Efron needs the seasoned experience of someone like Rogen to play off of. For example, Efron in the comedy That Awkward Moment is nowhere near the hilarious Efron we see on display in Neighbors. It has everything to do with the people surrounding him. He’s only asked to do so much, and he succeeds in being something a little cleverer than the stereotypical dumb-jock frat-boy type. He’s got great comedic timing.
When Efron and Rogen are together on screen, you’ll rarely find yourself not laughing. Sure the movie gets off to a slow start, but once the battle of pranks begins, it’s continuously funny until the end. The two of them are perfect together. Rogen and Byrne may lack any sort of real chemistry, but whatever is lacking there is completely overshadowed by the genuine chemistry Efron and Rogen have with each other.