Comedies are often the funniest when they're relatable. If the audience can connect with the protagonist in the quirky situation playing out on the screen, the easier it is for the ticket-holder to laugh. Often times, the more absurd the situation, the better, right? After all, anything too realistic with a comedy can lose the audience (look at The Campaign, for instance).
Knowing this, Neighbors really should have connected more. The feuding neighbor concept is far from a new one, and any homeowner should feel a kinship to the starting family. However, the situations often get far too out of hand, becoming more asinine than amusing more often than not, which ultimately will make it difficult to relate to either side of the argument.
Meet the Radnors, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne). After having a baby daughter and settling into a quiet suburb, Mac and Kelly are trying to adjust to family life after being a party couple for a long time – much like Mac's stoner friend and co-worker Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Kelly's club-hopping friend Paula (Carla Gallo). Between Mac's nine-to-five job and Kelly's developing neurosis from being home all day, the two find it hard to have fun, and are desperate for a good time.
So, when fraternity Delta Psi choose the house next door as their new base of operations, led by frat presidents Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco), Mac and Kelly see an opportunity to prove they can still be hip. The problem? Delta Psi thinks that every night is party night, which disrupts the Radnors' fragile domestic ecosystem. After a noise complaint involves the cops being called, Teddy declares war on the Radnors, buying the trust and love of the other neighbors on the block while doing everything they can to make Mac and Kelly's lives a living hell. However, Teddy and Pete soon realize they may have messed with the wrong family as the battle rages on.
Director Nicholas Stoller is no stranger to raucous, raunchy behavior or relatable comedy. One only has to look towards his work with Forgetting Sarah Marshall or the severely underrated Get Him To The Greek to see it. And his work on Neighbors holds many key elements of his previous work (okay, obviously not The Muppets, but you know what I mean). The problem is that, unlike those films, the script here is less than solid. While writers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien (both making their feature film debuts here) try their best to take suburban warfare to the next level, not even Stoller's considerable experience can take this to the level of comedy expected here.
Don't get me wrong! Neighbors has its moments. Rogen and Efron's chemistry is brilliant, while Byrne is clearly becoming the next big name in comedy. And many of the film's gags work stunningly, from the hilarious airbag gimmick shown in the trailers to Delta Psi's unique fundraiser that must be seen to believe. There are many genuine laughs earned from the film itself, not to mention hilarious cameos from some of comedy's finest, such as Lisa Kudrow and Andy Samberg.
So why only three stars? Simply put, Neighbors, while having earnestly funny moments, often counters those moments with some serious head-scratching groaners, which often make the film painful to watch. In Stoller's previous work, as raucous and painful as the events are, the emotional payoff allows the audience to forgive the indiscretions, much like Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. While Neighbors has a moment-of-clarity ending for all the characters, the payoff does not yield the forgiveness necessary for the film to work as well. Sure, some audiences will laugh until their sides hurt, but, unfortunately, the laughter will not be found by all.
FINAL VERDICT: Neighbors is a decently funny film with some amusing characters, genuine laughter, and good times here and there. However, the vast over-the-top nature of the frat-vs-family war keeps the film from being relatable, and the gags often cause more groans than laughs. While this is fine for some audiences, it's far from neighborly to exclude a lot of comedy lovers from the party.