[This review was originally published as part of our SXSW 2014 coverage. It is being re-posted to coincide with Neighbors‘ theatrical release.]
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Release Date: March 8, 2014 (SXSW)
Nicholas Stoller has been making a name for himself in the comedy scene for years, writing and directing some decent comedies (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five-Year Engagement). Neighbors, his most recent feature, takes some of the best parts of any Judd Apatow-related film, but adds in Stoller’s own style that makes it one of 2014’s best comedies of the year thus far.
Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are two young parents that move into a brand new neighborhood after putting their life savings into a house. Everything seems well and idyllic until a fraternity moves into the building right next door. Wanting to get on their good side, Mac and Kelly introduce themselves to the fraternity’s two leads, Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco). After hitting things off well, the relationship between them quickly sours after Mac and Kelly call in a noise complaint. Feeling betrayed, the fraternity declare a war of pranks and shenanigans on the couple, creating chaos in an already chaotic life. With no real options left to them, Mac and Kelly must fight fire with fire to ensure they aren’t displaced from their own neighborhood.
Neighbors takes a simple premise and runs with it to great comedic effect. What could have been nothing but a raunchy, lightweight comedy ended up being one of the year’s early comedy hits. Considering the nature of the premise (fraternity vs. developmentally-arrested young parents), the raunch level was always going to be present. However, it’s used in good taste and contextually well within the frameworks of the film. For example, most college-themed films like to include as many topless girls as possible to give off the “college” feeling. Neighbors, however, keeps the breasts to a bare minimum, only turning to them when appropriate or for a well-placed joke, essentially empowering the importance of bare breasts to great effect.
One major slight against Neighbors is a pacing problem. While the film starts off with some great jokes and keeps the momentum going, there’s a noticeable section of the film where the jokes and setups are halted for an extended period of time. Within the context of the film, this was all meant to lead into the otherwise hilarious third act, which is understandable, but unfortunately too much of a lapse to easily brush aside. When the jokes are on, though, they’re on, whether it’s extended “Who’s the real Batman?” exchange, dildo molding, or a long breast milk gag.
Everybody in the cast brought their A-game to Neighbors. Zac Efron’s been on this high trajectory, and I was happy to see him get the chance to work alongside both Stoller and Rogen. Franco, too, needs more roles like his in Neighbors, not only because of his comedic prowess, but to also show what he can offer outside of older brother James’ shadow. Of course, Byrne stole the show with her jokes. It just be the accent, but Byrne was on it for Neighbors, perhaps building off of the great chemistry she and Rogen shared.
Neighbors won’t be out in domestic theaters until May 9th, and indeed, the SXSW cut of the film still was an unfinished one, needing some extra polish, sound mixing, and overall post-editing. Hopefully, the edits they make can help the aforementioned lull in pacing towards the end of the film, plus cutting a few jokes or two wouldn’t be a bad idea (including a gruesomely unnecessary Obama joke that didn’t land at all). However, despite the extra work that’ll be made on the film, I still stand my ground by labeling Neighbors one of 2014’s best comedy offerings.