Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne versus a horde of out-of-control frat boys with Zac Efron at the helm; who wouldn’t want to see how that battle plays out? Neighbors is light on character development, ridden with logic issues and doesn’t flow particularly well, but director Nicholas Stoller never loses sight of that chief appeal, resulting in a feature that may not be particularly memorable, but is still a fun watch. Hit the jump for my full review of Neighbors from the SXSW Film Festival.
Rogen and Byrne are Mac and Kelly Radner. Their hard partying days are well in the past and now they’re very content living in a quiet suburban neighborhood with their adorable baby girl – that is until a fraternity moves in next door. With Teddy (Efron) leading the pack as president, the brothers of Delta Psi strive to achieve the highest honor by throwing the ultimate party, making history and earning themselves a spot on the coveted wall alongside their legendary brethren responsible for creating beer pong, the toga party and more. Trouble is, raging parties and sleeping babies don’t mix too well and Mac and Kelly aren’t about to let this brigade of manipulative, shot-guzzling, theme party-obsessed degenerates ruin their quaint existence.
Neighbors isn’t about the characters and it isn’t even about plot progression; it’s a string of silly, enjoyable sketches. Mac and Kelly are instantly likable and you are invested in their effort to shut down the frat, but not because you care if they get their lives back on track, but rather because it’s fun to see how far they’ll go to do it.
Right at the start they’re presented as two people who are very content with hanging home and heading to bed a bit on the early side. They know how to have fun, but accept the fact that they’re past their partying prime. Mac and Kelly also love each other dearly, are very much in synch and on their way to spending long, wonderful lives together. None of that changes. From start to finish, they’re happily married with no need to better their relationship and are still determined to achieve that quiet, comfortable life, so there’s no need to compromise with the Delta Psi brothers either, and that means there’s no reason for the characters to grow. With the main players having no arc, it puts an immense amount of pressure on their mission to shut down the frat.
However, oddly enough, even though Mac and Kelly are the anchors of the film, the frat brothers do manage to lay claim to Neighbors‘ marginal amount of character development. Teddy is an inconsiderate jerk who puts the frat above all else. There are attempts at showing off an honest, softer side, but each and every one of them is abrupt and only serves the on going war between Delta Psi and the Radners, never the character. But, there is one mildly effective and even heartfelt component on this side of the line and that’s Teddy’s relationship with the frat’s vice president, Pete (Dave Franco).
Pete is two completely different characters in one. For the first half of the film, he’s Teddy’s devoted right-hand man who has no reservations whatsoever when tormenting their enemies. However, right around the midpoint, Pete slaps on a pair of glasses and turns into a standout student with some serious aspirations. There’s no transition whatsoever and he doesn’t feel cohesive in the least, but Franco does sell both sides of the character well enough and also seizes an opportunity afforded to him by that latter half. Teddy and Pete aren’t just frat brothers, they’re friends for life and even though they’re all about making Delta Psi party history, along the way, Efron and Franco do manage to convince you that they truly value their friendship, so when that relationship is rattled, you’ll catch yourself caring about it, too.
But even that is only a short-lived sensation because top priority in Neighbors is going bigger, bigger and bigger, but in no particular order. Every single mini battle within the Radner versus Delta Psi war works. Even though it’s been used and abused in the promotional campaign, the airbag gag plays great in context. It’s also an absolute thrill watching Kelly and Mac let loose and party with the frat, making it a pleasure to experience that time and time again. Rogen sticks to his wheelhouse, but there’s nothing wrong with that because it’s what the role calls for and it pairs exceptionally well with what Byrne has to offer. She nailed it in Get Him to the Greek, then in Bridesmaids and she wins big again here, too. Byrne needs to keep doing comedy. Her soft-spoken demeanor and spot-on timing unite to create a fresher leading lady who can easily hold her own opposite a bolder comedian like Rogen while also grounding the outrageous material more than most.
There’s no real build or through line for Neighbors. The stakes stay about the same from beginning to end and the pranks are delivered in no particular order. Thanks to the lack of layers, Neighbors misses out on the opportunity to resonate and become one of the greats, but it still has enough charm and humor to make it worth your while.
Click here for all of our SXSW 2014 coverage.