by Hope Madden
How do you feel about dick jokes?
Chances are, you’ll enjoy Neighbors regardless, but a particular appreciation for penis humor is definitely a plus. It’s a frat movie. What else were we expecting?
Here’s what you should expect: fully developed characters, solid performances, onscreen chemistry from the weirdest of pairings, clever direction, sharp writing, and pacing quick enough to make it tough to catch your breath between jokes. And, of course, dick jokes.
Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play new parents still adjusting to the boring responsibility of adulthood when a fraternity buys the house next door.
What Rogen lacks in range he makes up for in schlubby comic ability, particularly with a script so self-aware and custom-made to his strengths. At one point, when the couple is arguing over who’s to blame for their situation, Rogen’s Mac tells his wife that she has to be the responsible grown up. “Haven’t you ever seen a Kevin James movie?” he asks her. “We can’t both be Kevin James.”
While Rogen is reliably Rogen, Byrne explores new territory and conquers. She more than carries her comic load, and her chemistry with Rogen, in particular, is wonderful.
Truth be told, there’s not a one-note character in the lot. Neighbors never traps itself with old frat boy stereotypes. Sure, they’re all good-looking, vacuous partiers who abuse pledges – that is the basic conflict in the film, after all – but the characters themselves get a fuller treatment than what you might expect.
Zac Efron looks good without a shirt, but he also hits all the right notes, bringing a little depth and empathy to the role of frat president Ted. Dave Franco makes an excellent second banana, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse plays nicely against type as slacker stoner Scoonie.
The laughs are continuous, and while the film certainly has a heart, it’s not the kind of sappy last-minute-lesson-learned crap that derails most raunchy comedies. There’s an awkward tenderness and humanity that informs the film from start to finish that makes any lessons feel more honest and earned.
Director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) reigns in his tendency to toward excess, bringing the film in at a brisk 96 minutes. He crams those visually arresting minutes with as much deeply flawed human comedy as possible. And at least half that time is spent without mention or sight of a penis.
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