There are lots and lots of big laughs to be found in Neighbors, the latest comedy from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the men who’ve given audiences the films This is the End, 50/50, Pineapple Express, and Superbad. The rapid fire, back-and-forth banter, the gags about weed, booze, and awkward sexual situations, the insight into the anxieties of modern men and women at transitional stages of their lives, all the signature elements that have come to characterize Rogen and Goldberg’s very accessible style of comedy, they’re all here, and it all works, for the most part.
What’s missing, however, is consistently coherent editing, and it affects the film’s storytelling to the point of distraction. Moreover, it gives you the sense that this was and should have been a much longer film, and a great deal of what ended up on the cutting room floor would have at least made the story make more sense, and probably made the whole film even funnier.
New parents Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Rose Byrne) find themselves just the tiniest bit conflicted over the direction their married lives have taken. On the one hand, they are completely in love with Stella, their first baby, and with the idea that they together brought something so beautiful into the world. But having Stella has changed their lives in ways that are difficult to adjust to than they were prepared for. No more going out to parties or raves when they get a last-minute invite. No more spontaneous sex in parts of the house that aren’t the bedroom. No more drinking for Kelly while she’s nursing. And a lot more staying at home and watching the baby … a LOT more. They’re trying to adjust and be “real” grown-ups, but it’s just not quite taking yet.
Enter the frat boys of Delta Psi, who one day arrive in a moving truck, affix their fraternity’s Greek letters over the front door of the house neighboring the Radners’, and proceed to make themselves at home. For Mac and Kelly, it’s potentially a nightmare scenario — loud parties, property damage, police visits — but in an effort to come off as “old and lame”, they make an effort to befriend the new arrivals, welcome them to the neighborhood with a peace offering (hint: the medical version is legal in some states) and gently encourage them to keep things under control.
The leaders of Delta Psi, Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco), initially agree to keep the noise down as long as Mac and Kelly agree to always just ask them to do, rather than calling the police on them, and the two parties seal their deal and bond with an all-night bender that the older folks can attend because Kelly’s got the baby monitor with her. The pact doesn’t last long, of course, as the very next night another party at the Delta Psi house forces the Radners, who can’t get either Teddy or Pete to answer the phone, to call the authorities. The betrayal sparks a war of one-upsmanship as the frat boys continue in their quest to earn a place on Delta Psi’s wall of fame by throwing a party epic enough to earn them a spot on Delta Psi’s wall of fame while annoying the Radners in the process, and the Radners fight back by trying to get the frat kicked out of the neighborhood.
It must be great to be Seth Rogen. The man makes film after film playing essentially an exaggerated version of himself, and not only do the films invariably make money, but his performances never feel tired, phoned-in, or “been-there-done-that.” His schlubby, quick-witted, pop-culture-savvy everyguy characters are invariably guys that everyone wishes they were pals with, if for no other reason that they’d be a hoot to hang out with and most certainly would always have weed on them. More recently, though, these characters have been more and more preoccupied with things like getting older, the way relationships change as time passes, and what it really means to be a schlubby adult, as opposed to a schlubby slacker or manchild. It’s these introspections, and the stories that spin out from them, that audiences in that key 18-35 demographic that shells out so much money at cinema box offices each year so readily connect with, and it’s why Rogen’s films are often so enjoyable. Arguably, audiences really don’t want to see him do anything else — for proof, just look at the box office totals for The Green Hornet.
Neighbors doesn’t stray far from the themes of Rogen’s previous work, and that’s not a bad thing at all. You can almost feel his sense of comic timing and delivery forcing his co-stars to step up their game just to keep up. Rose Byrne, who previously worked with Neighbors director Nicholas Stoller in Get Him to the Greek, also has some great moments playing somewhat against type, and between the two of them bantering back and forth and looking pretty darned cute together you can almost get over asking yourself how a couple like them would even get together in the first place. Efron, for his part, probably had to work harder on his physique than he did on playing his character — there’s not much to Teddy aside from his ambition to get his chapter of Delta Psi immortalized on the wall of fame — but honestly, adding more depth might have detracted from his contributions to the comedy, and those contributions work just fine.
What’s frustrating about the film is that the contributions of the rest of the ensemble — the immensely talented Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and TV veterans Ike Barinholtz and Carla Gallo, who play Mac and Kelly’s recently-separated best friends Jimmy and Paula — are severely hampered by the film’s editing, which no doubt sacrificed many scenes and plot beats that gave their characters screen time and a reason to be a part of the story at all. Subplots surrounding Franco’s character slow realization regarding the silly superficiality of frat life, Paula having a fling with Mintz-Plasse’s legendarily well-endowed character Schoonie, and others all are left with so little time to unfold onscreen that they barely register, and if they do, they barely make sense. With the film’s running time coming in at 96 minutes, one has to wonder if the studio execs over at Universal insisted on a much-shorter film than Stoller, Rogen, and Goldberg had in mind originally, and they were forced to cut a whole lot more than they’d wanted to in order to wrap up the film in only an hour and a half.
Of course, none of that may matter if you’re there to see what happens when Rogen battles Efron in a dance off, or to watch him go through the roof literally as a victim of Delta Psi’s creative use of the airbags from Kelly’s car. The film’s got lots of great gags, the majority of which aren’t given away by the film’s trailer, and the hilarity in those scenes may just be enough to keep you from asking too many questions like, “Wait, they’re a married couple?” or “Hang on, when did those two hook up?” If that’s the case, then go now and enjoy Neighbors for the romp that it is.
If, however, storytelling continuity issues like that are likely to be a distraction and detract from your enjoyment of the film, then it might be best to wait for the inevitable “unrated” home video version, which is likely to add all sorts of footage back into the film. It’s quite likely that the version audiences get at home will be even funnier, and the story just might make a bit more sense, too.
Score: 2.5 out of 5
Starring Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Dave Franco. Directed by Nicholas Stoller.
Running Time: 96 minutes
Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout.
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