My enthusiasm for Nicholas Stoller’s Neighbors knows bounds. In fact, it knows all kinds of bounds. Perhaps I am just too old for this movie and simply find both the young couple and the younger frat boys tedious constructs from another world. It is, of course, the kind of movie where one is frequently told to park one’s brain at the door. I have no doubt this would help, but even at the door, my brain would have raised objections over the incredible stupidity that has to be evidenced by the characters just to keep the plot going. The moment Neighbors wanted me to believe that the Seth Rogen character was so dumb that he didn’t realize that the police would be able to tell who made the call reporting noisy neighbors transcended my breaking point. (Cue the chorus of “You’re overthinking this.” This really isn’t heavy thinking.)
According to some of the film’s more generous detractors, Neighbors is a great premise that’s been poorly handled. I would love to know how a war between a young couple and a frat house is a great premise. It’s just a one-joke concept that’s dragged out for 96 very long minutes. That those 96 minutes are poorly handled, however, I will not argue. I have nothing against the fact that the film is deliberately raunchy. I certainly don’t mind that it wants to offend me. (Offending my intelligence is a separate issue.) That it fails to really offend me may be a barometer of how jaded I am. Pubic hair gags, dick jokes, drug humor and all the other staples of these movies are so vieux jeu by this point in history that they’re hardly shocking. The film’s apparently big moment of transgression — where Seth Rogen has to milk Rose Byrne — isn’t transgressive, it’s merely biological.
The idea here is that schlubby upscale stoner Mac (Rogen) and wife Kelly (Byrne, who ought to be used to dicey real estate after two Insidious movies) have sunk every penny into a dream home for themselves and their infant daughter. Into this Eden of the suburbs comes Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) and his fraternity brothers, who turn the house next door into their frat house. Mac and Kelly make an attempt at being good neighbors — even partying all night with the boys (who is minding the baby is addressed simply by Kelly carting around a baby monitor.) This peace lasts only briefly, of course, because otherwise there’s no movie. One noisy party too many and a call to the cops later and it’s full-blown war — mostly, it seems, because Teddy feels betrayed and his feelings are hurt. Various hijinks ensue, none of which struck me as very funny. Others have disagreed, and the movie has already made a fortune.
While the name Judd Apatow is nowhere to be found on the film, Neighbors is definitely from the school of Apatow. It’s meandering, overstays its welcome and is frequently incomprehensible. The fact that no one else in the neighborhood is bothered by the wild parties is ridiculous. And, no, one shot of the frat boys helping an aging invalid neighbor explains this, unless we’re to believe that the entire rest of the neighborhood consists of nursing home refugees. Why is the entire police force represented by one useless cop? Worse, the film raises issues and then forgets about them. In the case of Teddy’s right-hand man, Pete (Dave Franco), telling Teddy he loves him — not, it seems, as a “bro” — it actually just drops the issue in mid-scene. And, of course, however edgy all this nonsense pretends to be, it turns around in the last few minutes to endorse its fantasy middle class status quo and go all hot, soft and woolly with the frat boys. Zac Efron and Rose Byrne, you’re better than this. Seth Rogen, well, never mind. Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout.