Looking at the new comedy Neighbors, it’s remarkably simple to see where its pitfalls will be. The story of a frat-house moving next door to a married couple and their new baby is going to have some standard, annoying clichés. Surely, there will be a scene where the warring neighbors realize they have quite a few things in common. The married couple will get into a series of fights, one worse than the last. Of course, it is important that in these fights, the wife will be the one telling the husband what to do and be given little in the way of funny lines.
Neighbors doesn’t just skew away from these obvious tropes, it’s a blisteringly funny film that finds its laughs across a wide-range of characters – male and female – and finds some surprising shadings to those involved along the way.
The movie is directed by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), who is a capable hand at this type of movie; obscene with a heart. Few directors can mix sex-toys and emotion into a single piece, and Stoller has managed to find that tone multiple times, including the underrated romance The Five-Year Engagement. This is the first screenplay by collaborators Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien. The pair provide a swift, solid backbone for Stoller to play in, allowing his cast to riff, while still featuring a series of excellent punch-lines and a string of pop-culture references that are akin to how people actually use them in day-to-day life, a rarity for film.
The parents in Neighbors are Seth Rogen as Mac and Rose Byrne as Kelly. The two are a delight together, bouncing off each other with their bipolar feelings about parenthood. This isn’t new stuff, yet the complete glee they share about going to a rave, with baby in-tow of course, is hilarious, amplified by Stoller’s staging of the bliss falling away into sleepiness and eventual crashing, ending with another night at home. A later moment features Rogen and Byrne practicing how they will tell their new neighbors to keep it down is outrageously enjoyable, each trying to out-casual one another, not wanting to come across as lame.
Rogen does his usual shtick, which is not a complaint. Byrne is given a lot of room to be loose and goofy; she excels at both. The glint in her eye and arrogant swagger after one-upping the frat-boys during one party is especially strong work. The head of that frat is Zac Efron. After this year’s That Awkward Moment and this movie, it doesn’t appear that Efron is an engaging adult-talent as of yet. He doesn’t bring the movie down, but one can’t help imagining other actors doing better work in his part as a rambunctious, slightly wayward young man. Efron’s second in command Dave Franco is far superior as he seems to actually enjoy the debauchery that occurs.
Other supporting players are memorable, most notably “The Mindy Project” star Ike Barinholtz as one of the couple’s friends who over-eagerly inserts himself into the action. Then there is Jerrod Carmichael, making the most of his film debut as Garf, the kind, smooth-talking fraternity member who at one point is forced to impersonate Garfield the cat.
On a whole, Neighbors is probably going to be the best mainstream comedy of the summer, popping in for 90 minutes of reliable jokes and then exiting. The rare recent comedy to not overstay its welcome.
Neighbors opens wide all across Seattle tomorrow.