Thursday, May 15, 2014

Neighbors

Neighbors presents an age old battle: those who wish to party must rage against those who wish the party to end. We've all been there at some point, and our role in the war is always in flux, a fluid mobius strip of self-righteousness and exhaustion.  We've also, of course, seen this plot played out repeatedly in comedy after comedy, though often times the battle is one waged between obvious beacons of authority and a gang of likable rogues.  If Neighbors is different it's because this time the party crushers are also party crashers, complicit in the action when they want to be, enraged when they don't.  Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are a couple learning how to raise their newborn daughter in a house they've only recently sunk all their money into.  They're struggling with the recent loss of their social lives and the sort of cabin fever that frequently seems to accompany being chained to the needs of an infant.  When the house next door is sold to a fraternity from the nearby campus, Mac and Kelly don't know whether to befriend its tenants or slip into their newly acquired role as parental figures.  They want to seem cool, young, but also want respect, quiet, and a full-night's sleep.  When they throw the baby in a stroller and walk next door to appease the party gods with a marijuana offering, they meet the frat kings: Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco). 


Initially, all is well. Teddy's gang of rabblerousers is party-centric, sure, but they're generous enough to invite their older neighbors in for the bacchanal, offer them drinks and drugs, and generally play nice.  Mac and Kelly leave feeling reacquainted with their youth, but that all goes south as soon as the process repeats, noisily, weeknight after weeknight.  In no time, all goodwill is dissolved between the two parties, and a war begins. Kelly and Mac want the frat shut down and moved out, the frat will do anything in its power to remain, and to exact their revenge on the meddling couple next door.  Each side play dirty, each is massively immature, each doesn't know their own limits, and so the situation escalates.  Neighbors is a familiar pattern story, and a shallow one.  The characters frequently feel like tools arranged to further situations and sight gags, and when we're supposed to understand something of the friendships forged and burned, we don't. Not really. The same can be said for many a concept comedy, I suppose, and in many ways Neighbors is concerned with formal arrangements instead of relationships.  What's unsatisfying about this is, perhaps, that we've become used to seeing both halves of the equation from these Apatow-type affairs. We want the crudity and the heart, and Neighbors falters in delivering something from the latter.  
I'll admit, it's not reasonable to expect that kind of layering in a comedy like this. It's a party movie, after all, and the party hi-jinks must take precedence.  To that end, the film does a fantastic job crafting a frat boy wonderland of twinkle lights, kegs, and flat screens, and Teddy is a perfectly doltish presence in the midst of the mayhem.  He's just the right mix of near-adult and dopey kid, hyped up on magic mushrooms, fireworks, and a best-friends-forever notion of brotherhood.  His frat boys, too, all find their own cartoonish places. Rogen's Mac fits in with them then off-sets them, but he's largely more of the same.  It's Kelly that stands out a bit more here, and Byrne proves she has some serious comedic skills beyond her prissy character in Bridesmaids.  She's game for every turn, and a welcome presence in a film that's of the same breed as many of those past Apatowian films; a bromantic stoner comedy with the pieces we come to expect from this sort of thing: male nudity, lots of cursing, lots of dick jokes, lots of weird pop culture drops, and a few off-color comments just to piss off the folks in the audience who shouldn't be there. It's consistently amusing. Sometimes it's even funny. The problem is, it's maybe not funny enough to be truly memorable. I laughed, I saw the turn, I saw the movie's intentions. But, they're nothing I haven't seen before...  


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