Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"Neighbors" Review: This Family Vs. Frat Comedy Is Surprsing In Many Ways, Both Good And Bad


Revenge of the Nerds, Animal House, Back to School, Making the Grade, PCU and Old School are just a handful of examples of what is known as the college party genre, or better yet, the Frat Party movie. More often than not it either features the frat kids as the central protagonists (Animal House) or as the central antagonists (Revenge of the Nerds). Even romantic comedies (House Bunny) or horror films (Scream 2) dabble in the genre from time to time.

But one thing that is always consistent throughout the genre is that there will be parties, there will be booze, there will be drugs and at some point, there will be war. The new comedy Neighbors takes all of those aforementioned elements into consideration with its family versus frat structure while also bringing in some unexpected depth that isn't usually associated with the genre. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: Harkins Chino Hills
Time:1:00 pm, May 9, 2014       
Projector Type: Digital 2D         
Film Rating: R                 
Film Runtime: 1 hr 36 min    
Studio: Universal Pictures

Biases:  
Loves: Rose Byrne, raunchy comedies
Likes: Seth Rogen, frat party movies, revenge movies
Neutral:  Zac Efron
Hates: Comedies with down time
Surprising: Zac Efron's performance


New parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are having a difficult time adjusting to life as grown ups, or more specifically getting older. No longer able to go out and party with their friends, they must contend with their new, less exciting, life with their baby girl. To add to their problems though, their new neighbors aren't exactly newborn baby friendly with them being a Fraternity house for Delta Psi. After approaching the president of the frat Teddy (Zac Efron), all three seem to have come to an understanding until an unfortunate event that involves the police and a broken promise lead both neighbors into a turf war that will test their limits on how far they are willing to go to win.

There are a lot of elements to Neighbors that help set it apart from your generic frat party movie, the first being its premise of neighbor versus neighbor. This simple and very effective situation is easily relatable to anyone who has ever lived in a home where their neighbors weren't the stereotypical friendly types we see in our television sitcoms and helps the audience identify with the plight of either house. Another area the film surprises is its broad appeal, its raunchy tendencies not withstanding.


Whether you are a thirtysomething couple who hate the little brats playing baseball or basketball in the middle of the street all day long or a twentysomething youth who hates rules and any form of authority, chances are you will find something in either neighbor that will be extremely familiar to you, for better or worse. If it isn't Mac's attempt to squash everything by extending a "green" hand of trust in hopes of getting a good nights sleep, it will be Teddy's retaliatory attitude to having a sacred bond broken that will help you relate.

What helps sell this outrageous but all too real premise are no doubt the cast. Seth Rogen is Seth Rogen, which is either a good or bad thing depending on how you feel towards his acting talents. Rose Byrne has been quickly making a name for herself in the comedy realm and here she proves that she deserves her own starring role as soon as possible. But the real surprise is Zac Efron, whose transformation here is very reminiscent of the one Channing Tatum went through with 21 Jump Street. This isn't to say he has gone from a questionable actor to a good actor (which was the case with Tatum), but more like he is showing a different side to himself that will undoubtedly garner him some new, perhaps more male, fans.

To compliment the quality casting is a script that simultaneously delivers on the laughs and some unexpectedly character depth, especially for Teddy and his vice president Pete (Dave Franco). Despite being introduced as your typical frat party kids with a grudge, the film quickly reveals extra layers to them that will have you questioning who exactly the bad guy is here. Early on Teddy forges a friendship with Mac that at first seems disingenuous, but when it is revealed that he did in fact display some real hurt when Mac breaks his promise and bestows upon him a belated gift, its hard to not build sympathy for Teddy.


This goes even more so for Pete, who is introduced as a guy who can grow and erection on a moments notice as a main character trait. While most films in this genre would be fine with leaving his character as this shallow party guy with an exceptional gift, what we learn about him later makes him a real three dimensional character whose motivations are much more grounded than anyone would ever expect. This is akin to the character of Stifler in the American Pie movies suddenly revealing that he has a tender heart and understands that his life is a joke, which is a very bizarre image to paint for sure but also very apt.

As for Mac and Kelly...well, they surprisingly don't get nearly as much attention in the script department and end up being more two dimensional than it first appears. There are a number of established conflicts with them before the frat guys even show up that seem like they will be resolved by the end of the film but are tossed away in favor of their vengeance fueled attack on their unwelcome neighbors. Plotlines such as Kelly being an unhappy housewife, Mac being a horrible employee at his work, the two of them looking to spice up their love life after having their baby, this stuff is forgotten about more or less in favor of a more vengeful path for them both.


If not for the talents of both Rogen and Byrne, their characters would be nothing more than a couple of pranksters who are just as bad, if not worse, than those they are at war with. Speaking of the war, another surprising, and problematic, facet to the film is how it shifts gears near the middle and suddenly becomes less about the feud and more about the individual characters. While this is all good and fine with the character development side of things, the laughs also take a backseat for a bit too long making the film more of an occasional belly laugh than the expected laugh riot it is selling itself as.

Heck, the pranks don't really go any further than you may have seen in the trailer with the air bags and pilates ball. There are a couple of things that aren't shown in the trailer, which actually make Mac and Kelly even less sympathetic, that reinforce the fact that this is a revenge flick, but the downtime in between the pranks will have you wondering if the film is about to wrap up or keep going. This isn't to say you won't find a lot of funny gags in the film (the Robert DeNiro party and the basement dildo factory are particularly inspired), but they just aren't as frequent as most would expect.


Despite its uneven character work and an ending that leaves something to be desired, Neighbors is still a lot of fun and a very entertaining comedy from beginning to end. The added depth to some of the characters, inspired casting and some great generational humor are just icing on the cake (love the Batman debate). Best of all this is a film that works for all generations, whether you are young or old, you will find something to relate to in the film that will only enhance the funny bits as few and far between as they may be.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

There really aren't very many other options out there for someone looking for a solid comedy. But even if there were, Neighbors would still come as a solid recommendation for if nothing more than its quality cast, inspired premise and just enough solid gags and jokes to make you forget about your own problems for a little while. That's all one can ask for in their comedies and Neighbors provides the goods in that department.

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