Although hampered by its weak story and shaky characterization, “Neighbors” tries many gross or outrageous things to maintain its comic momentum, and I must duly report that the movie did a fairly nice job of inducing me and the other audiences around me to laugh or chuckle during the screening at last night. I kept recognizing its flaws along with a number of the scenes which are not as funny as intended, but it somehow did not leave a bad taste in my mouth despite all these raunchy gags thrown at me and others, and, as going back to my dormitory room right after the screening, I concluded that I had a good time with it.
Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play Mac and Kelly Radner, a young married couple who has recently started their first step into suburban family life with their little baby daughter Stella(played by Elise and Zoey Vargas, who always look like a sweet, innocent island floated on the ocean of many R-rated jokes throughout the film). The daily life at their home constantly revolves around their adorable daughter, and they have been learning that their life is becoming quite different from their good old college days. At one point, they are invited by their friend to a music concert during one evening, but, after trying so hard to prepare themselves well for going out with their baby, they only find themselves waking up near the front door in the next morning.
Anyway, they have accepted this transition period of theirs while being happy with their daughter, but then a college fraternity moves into the house right next to theirs. When they come across Teddy(Zac Efron) and his fraternity members who are ready to have a fun right from their moving day, they quickly see that this will be a major problem to their home life. They try to be both polite and cool as trying to tell these fraternity boys that they do not welcome too much noisy at night, and Teddy and other boys seem to understand their concern, but Mac and Kelly are soon annoyed by the relentless noises from their new neighbors every night.
However, they are also attracted to the heedless excitement generated from the fraternity house. When they are invited to the fraternity house during one evening party, they are quickly swept by its crazy mood filled with fluorescent lights, booze, and drug, and they temporarily feel like being young again as hanging out with boys and girls in the house.
Considering how much loud noises they make every night, the fraternity boys in the movie would be kicked out of their house within a week in real life, but they manage to stay in their house, mainly because that is absolutely required by the plot for setting the comic conflict between them and our young couple. Mac and Kelly eventually decide that enough is enough, so they call the police, but Teddy and other fraternity members turn out to be not an easy opponent to handle. As the animosity is increased between two neighboring houses, the series of mean retaliations are exchanged between them as a consequence, and one of the funniest moments in the film is involved with car air bags. I do not think car air bag can be so forceful like that, and it apparently looks cartoonish, but it is hilarious to watch none the less.
The screenplay by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien is uneven and flawed to say the least, but it has a fair share of humor to compensate for that, and the director Nicholas Stoller, who previously directed “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”(2008) and “Get Him to the Greek”(2010), handles well its comic scenes in most cases. Not all of its attempts are successful(I can live without many of its gags involved with a certain male body part, for example), but we constantly get unexpected comic moments to surprise and tickle us, and the one involved with a trampoline is a good textbook example showing why precise setting and timing are crucial for drawing laughs from the audiences.
The certain scenes in the movie will make some of you cringe due to their blatant raunchiness, but the movie thankfully does not go too far in that aspect, and it handles Mac and Kelly’s parenting with considerable care while not cheapening their difficult daily life as parents. Like “Baby Blues”, a famous newspaper comic strip which has always tickled me since my high school years, their comic situations at home are funny mainly because they humorously reflect some truths about parenting experience, and you may be more amused than me if you are experienced.
While it can be said that he is not so different from his previous goofy comic roles, Seth Rogen is appropriately cast as a likable guy who is a good father and husband but still needs to grow up a bit more, and he and his co-star Rose Byrne has good chemistry between them. Their frantic scene built around Kelly’s breasts in the need of being pumped is not so successful as intended, but, believe me, it could be far more embarrassing to watch if it were not for the quick, sharp exchanges between Rogen and Byrne during that scene.
As the character functioning as the villain of the story, Zac Effron ably fills his role while doing more than taking off his shirts to show his good physical state, and he is surrounded by several young notable actors including Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Dave Franco. While he is capable of some pretty nasty things to be frowned upon, Teddy is not entirely a mean bastard, and there is a pointed moment in which he comes to realize that he should have thought more about his life beyond college years rather than wasting his time with endless parties.
“Neighbors” has visible shortcomings including the superficial treatment of the other female characters besides Byrne’s character(Teddy’s girlfriend is no more than a plot device, for instance) or its weak ending which feels more like an obligatory footnote, but it remains as a funny film with good laughs thanks to the talents behind it. I still think it could have been better with more wits or barbs, but it is not easy to be grouchy about that when you see a baby who seems to enjoy her own moment on the screen.