Neighbors Review: Frat Vs. Family is Riotously Funny

Photo Credit: http://media.winnipegfreepress.com/images/NYET106-56_2013_153124_high.jpg

Summer hasn’t officially started yet, but this Greek life comedy from Forgetting Sarah Marshall director Nicholas Stoller might just be the surprise hit of the season.

Of all the films that choose to examine the lives of fraternity brothers and sorority sisters, few have ever reached the hedonistic heights of Animal House. That 1978 Jim Belushi-starrer is a now iconic depiction of American college debauchery, with its posters hanging in many a dorm room. Neighbors is the first movie in a long while to effectively capture the boisterous spirit of the Greek system, while also maintaining some razorsharp wit.

Perhaps this is because Neighbors isn’t just a frat movie. It’s actually more of a commentary on growing up, and the transition from the carefree days of one’s youth to responsible, well-adjusted adult life. We’re first introduced to young couple Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne respectively), who’ve moved into a new house with their adorable new baby. Mac and Kelly seem a little reluctant to have traded in bar tabs and date nights for breast pumps and diaper duty, but they’re far from boring old stiffs.

One day, their idyllic suburban life is intruded upon when a group of brothers from Delta Psi Beta move in next door. Led by Teddy (Zac Efron), an Abercombie & Fitch ad come to life, these dudes don’t just like to party–they ARE the party. After an initial attempt to bond with them goes sour, Mac and Kelly realize they need to get these kids off their street. A series of pranks from both sides ensues until it escalates into all out war.

There are outrageous sight gags abound in this film, with scenes that include inappropriately trimmed topiary, giant dildos, and some seriously sensitive airbags. The real treat, however, is watching the comedically gifted cast play off each other. Rogen has long been a member of the Judd Apatow School of Humor, but he seems more at home playing a goofy husband and father than any of his previous incarnations. Efron proves to have some solid comedic timing, especially during scenes with the fraternity’s Vice President Pete (Dave Franco).

The biggest surprise turns out to be Byrne, who plays Kelly like a spunky firecracker. One of the best things about the film’s script, written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, is that it expertly avoids the pratfalls of sitcom-esque clichés. Kelly could have easily been portrayed as a nagging shrew so as to contrast Mac’s silly manchild. Instead, she’s just as giddy, wild, and devious as he is, even coming up with brilliant schemes of her own to take Delta Psi down. The film hits this point a little too on the nose during one scene when the couple argues over who is more irresponsible, but it’s still a very refreshing change of pace.

The longer the battle rages on, the more it becomes clear that Mac’s world and Teddy’s world aren’t so inherently different. The film raises some interesting ideas about what it means to be a “grown-up” and what to do about people who just can’t seem to grow up. It’s nothing revelatory or inspiring, but it still provides a relatable theme for the story to work around. The comedy comes from a place of desperation, making each joke ten times funnier. Grade: A-

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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