Review: “Neighbors”

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Neighbors isn’t easy to write about because there isn’t really much to elaborate on or analyze. In a way, for someone like me, that’s refreshing. Sometimes I get tired of looking deep into movies the way I have been for the last few years. I get tired of nitpicking silly things like ‘logic’. What even is that?

So I have to thank Neighbors. For the hour and a half I was in the theater, I was transported to a time before this blog, a time even before I flooded everyone’s RottenTomatoes feeds with my stupid opinions. A time like 2008, when the only reason I went to the movies was to not think. And what a coincidence that if you asked me who my favorite actor was back then I’d probably say something like “Seth Rogen, he’s so funnnnny lol *-*”.

2008 was the year that amazing movies like Frost/Nixon and Milk (and less amazing movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionare) were nominated for best picture. I saw none of those movies at the time. This was still at the height of R-rated youth-oriented comedies coming into their own (what I call the ‘post-Apatow boom’) and there was no better time to be a dumb teenager at the movies. My favorite movies of 2008 were Pineapple Express and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, two hilarious movies that I still consider shining examples of modern comedy.
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Neighbors is a match made in heaven for the 2008 version of me. It teams the same director as Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Nicholas Stoller) with Pineapple Express’s Rogen in a movie with a plot that’s so simple and full of potential there was seemingly no way it could turn out bad. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play a married couple with a baby, when the house next door is bought by a fraternity.
The casting is just about perfect. Rogen has not changed up his acting routine at all, but it doesn’t matter, because every face he makes and every line he delivers still practically guaranteed a smile, if not a laugh. I was pleasantly surprised by how good of a pairing Rogen/Byrne are, specifically how well Byrne is able to play off of Rogen’s usual aloof personality. The main frat brothers are played by Zac Efron, Dave Franco, who do a great job of manifesting frat mannerisms — and of course they look the part. I have an itching suspicion Franco barely had to act at all.
Many people have been talking about this movie like it’s the first proof that Efron can actually act, though that was already proven with the under-seen, underrated Me & Orson Welles. Here, though, Efron proves that he has a knack for comedic timing — not as good as Franco, but he holds his own even up against Rogen. Really, the only weak links are Rogen and Byrne’s friends, who don’t add anything except being particularly annoying.
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As you would expect for a film that takes place partly in a frat house, the most energetic scenes are frat parties, which are presented with colorful, neon-lit chaos. From my humble GDI point of view, I thought the details of the frat were fairly accurate, sometimes spot-on and sometimes a bit played up. I was only distracted by the fact that, by the end of the year, there is no way the house would still be in such good condition. 

I appreciate that the writers added a bit more nuance to the characters than making them straight fraternity stereotypes.  From the first scene with Efron and Franco, it’s abundantly clear that these aren’t just douchebags — they’re generally good guys, loyal and driven, living a lifestyle that can at times be harmful to themselves and others. And Rogen and Byrne aren’t just stuffy parents — they desperately want to be viewed as the ‘cool adults’ by their new neighbors.

Beforehand, I thought I had the whole thing figured out: Rogen would  learn to loosen up and have a good time, while simultaneously teaching the frat brothers about responsibility. Luckily, this cliche plot is not what the movie delivers, nor does it take sides. At the end of the day I’m not quite sure what the exact lesson of the movie is — I’m not sure the movie ever really settles on one.
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In fact, the movie often hints at the deeper psychology of the characters, and stop just short of really diving into both Rogen and Efron’s fears of growing older. But these interesting threads don’t ultimately go anywhere, making way for the bombastic finale instead. But there I go again, nitpicking an R-rated comedy for being more than just fun.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter, because the movie isn’t about teaching us anything. It’s about trying to make us laugh consistently through absurd and appropriately inappropriate gags, and the movie is stuffed with memorable ones, giving both the horny college side of the plot as well as the parenting side equal focus. This is particularly ingenious because those on either side of the line drawn in the sane can find things they identity with.
Ultimately, I don’t think the film is funny enough to be a classic. Certain scenes feel rehashed from past R-rated comedies, including the gazillionth overly-earnest “I love you, bro” moment that we got all the way back in Superbad. Some of the gags try to make up for their middling humor with over-exaggerated reactions from characters or over-the-top visuals (like the airbag scenes, which are admittedly hilarious in just how startling they are). 
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Still, Neighbors is the best Hollywood comedy I’ve seen in a couple of years, and I even liked it more than last summer’s This is the End.
I don’t even know why I needed to write so much about it. If you skipped to the bottom, here you go: Neighbors is funny.
Score: 3.5 out of 5
– Sam
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