Seth Rogen has a pretty good gig going right now. He’s able to write, and/or have his friends write, him into movies where the main character is basically Seth Rogen. Now, that’s not me knocking the guy. Full credit where credit is due. It also makes my job as a film critic pretty easy.
I could talk about a number of different facets to his new movie, Neighbors, where he and Rose Byrne play a married couple in a quiet neighborhood trying to cope with the fraternity that moved in next door. How it feels a little bit like Old School meets This is 40. How it’s really strange to have a film built upon two sets of characters who are at odds with one another but don’t have any true animosity towards each other at the same time. How the movie is unsurprisingly a series of gross jokes, weed jokes, sex jokes, and gross, weed, sex jokes. But what’s the point?
The entire selling point of the movie is Rogen. You either like him or you don’t. I happen to like him. As such, I found quite a few moments in the film amusing. I actually like most of the co-stars even more. Byrne has long been a favorite of mine, and with this, Bridesmaids and Get Him to the Greek, she’s been showing off her comedic chops as well as the dramatic ones she was more known for previously. Here, she steals the show and clearly did not say ‘no’ to any idea the filmmakers and actors around her came up with. She’s ballsy and she’s committed. That’s a good thing because otherwise, the movie would have easily swayed over to the side of the frat boys next door.
Headed up by Zac Efron, Dave Franco, and with a little help from McLovin’, the boys of Delta Psi Beta just want to throw an epic party and go down in the annals of their fraternity as legends. And really, isn’t that what college is about? (Actually it is but let’s not divert into a discussion on the failings of higher education in America.) What ensues is a bit of house warfare. The adults want a nice, quiet neighborhood in which they can raise their daughter. The frat brothers want to party without the cops busting things up and potentially having their charter revoked for excessive infractions.
Honestly, while I appreciated many of the performances (Zac Efron’s never been better and I’m not dripping any irony here), I’m just nonplussed about the whole affair. Having chewed on my thoughts for a few weeks, I just can’t get past the notion that there is no villain. And with no villain, there is no hero. And with no hero what the hell am I rooting for? This stuff isn’t Shakespeare. I just want to laugh and watch as a rag tag group of underdogs stick it to the Man. A host of classic college movies understand this formula: Revenge of the Nerds, PCU, Old School, and Animal House to name a few.
Sadly, Neighbors attempted to grow a brain and considering that brain was loaded on alcohol, weed, and whatever tanning lotion Efron slathers all over himself, that’s not a good thing. Now, to be fair, the college audience I saw the movie with was loving it. LOVING IT. So if you’re in that demographic, by all means go out and enjoy this movie. For those of us who are almost as far removed from college as they were when they were born, this falls into the category of amusing movies that are worth a spin at home on a lazy afternoon but aren’t required viewing. Figure out which of those groups you’re in and make your choice.
Neighbors opens in theaters on May 9, 2014 and is rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout.
– Reviewed by Ian Forbes
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