Many of the modern comedies that are considered classics become part of the pop culture lexicon, endlessly quoted by fans in all sorts of different contexts. I have a strong suspicion that "Neighbors" is going to be one of those films that is simply absorbed whole by audiences. Not only is it uproariously funny and almost breathtakingly dirty, it is better written than it needs to be on a character level, delivering completely on its premise.
Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose) are a young married couple who are adjusting to parenthood, having just moved into their first house. They're at that moment where they still have fresh memories of their party days, but they're settling into a life of responsibility and chafing a bit at the sensation. When the Delta Psy Kappa fraternity buys the house next door to them, Mac and Kelly are determined to try to be the cool neighbors. They go over to introduce themselves to Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco), the president and vice-president of the frat, and they try to reach out so that there won't be any problems in the future.
That lasts for about a day, of course. The Deltas, and Teddy in particular, are obsessed with partying, complete with a shrine to various party landmarks from the frat's history stretching all the way back to the '30s. Teddy is determined to get his own picture up on the wall before he graduates, which is problematic for Mac and Kelly and their infant daughter Stella. What begins as a slightly strained back and forth escalates into a full-blown war of the wills as Mac and Stella work to figure out a way to drive the frat out of the house even as the Deltas work to figure out a way to reach party god immortality.
That's pretty much it. There are plenty of plot beats that I haven't mentioned, but part of the fun of the script by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien is that they continually tweak expectations. Like last year's "This Is The End," what sounds like a fairly thin premise ends up yielding amazing results, giving director Nicholas Stoller plenty of room to simply let his great ensemble cast rip in scene after scene after scene.
"Neighbors" manages to avoid one of my least favorite trends in mainstream comedy. Instead of suddenly shifting into plot mode in the third act or suddenly starting to hammer home a message, "Neighbors" keeps its foot on the gas right up to the closing credits, something I admire tremendously. Sure, they manage to give Efron's character more depth than I expected, and sure, they do a great job of articulating that feeling that so many young parents have, anxiety about no longer being able to do all the things they used to do, but they do so while also continually playing things for big laughs.
When I recently reviewed "That Awkward Moment," I mentioned that I was unconvinced about Zac Efron so far as a performer, but that is no longer the case. He is genuinely hilarious in this film, and Dave Franco makes a perfect right-hand man for him. Jerrod Carmichael, Craig Roberts, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are all very funny as members of the frat, and Ike Barinholtz scores some massive laughs as Jimmy, a guy who works with Mac. He and his ex-wife Paula (Carla Gallo) drive Mac and Kelly crazy with their constant fighting, but Jimmy becomes a valuable co-conspirator as Mac and Kelly plan their various strikes against the frat. People like Andy Samberg, Lisa Kudrow, Jason Mantzoukas, Jake Johnson, and Hannibal Burress show up in very small roles, making quick impressions and making even the slightest characters memorable.
Stoller seems to be getting stronger as a director every time out, and one of the things that he has a real knack for is the celebration of bad behavior. He seems to take delight in staging the various parties and in the great no-holds-barred pranks back and forth, and there doesn't seem to be a punchline too outrageous or explicit for him as long as it's funny. It helps that Rogen and Byrne are in absolutely peak form here as actors. I find Byrne more impressive every time I see her, and she proves to be a perfect partner for Rogen. Hell, Stoller even gets a great performance out of Zoey and Elise Vargas, the twins who play baby Stella, especially in the film's wicked opening scene.
Brandon Trost is one of the hardest working cinematographers these days, and he's a great option for comedy directors because of how fast he is and how much life there is in his shooting style. Zene Baker, who edited "This Is The End," "Observe & Report," and "50/50," among others, has given the film a propulsive sense of energy as well. This is brief compared to Stoller's other films, and because it moves so aggressively, there's no wasted moment, no scene that slows things down.
"Neighbors" is a comedy people will return to often, and I would hope it leads to much more work for the writers. Stoller is already in demand, but I think this is going to make people reassess just how good he really is. What we saw tonight is technically a work-in-progress, but it felt very polished already. I may have a slightly sore throat as I head to bed tonight, but it's sore from laughing. One of the highest compliments I can pay to any film is to say I can't wait to see them again, and that is absolutely true of "Neighbors."
Cinema Blend, Sean O'Connell - 'SXSW: Yes, Zac Efron Really Is The Funniest Person In Neighbors'
Do you know who is REALLY funny in Nicholas Stoller’s Neighbors? Like, "steal the show" funny?
I can hear you bitching and moaning already. Save it. Efron uses every tool in his box to keep up with (and often ahead of) a fast-and-filthy talking Seth Rogen as Neighbors works up a disgustingly funny lather. The raunchy rival comedy held a work-in-progress screening at the Paramount Theater during South By Southwest, and while the MPAA might ask for a few cuts (there are a LOT of dick jokes), the version we saw will light theaters on fire when Neighbors opens this summer.
Stoller brought Forgetting Sarah Marshall to this fest back in 2008, and called that screening "the best" of his career. This one might top it. The Paramount crowd roared as Rogen and Rose Byrne stepped into the roles of new parents Mac and Kelly Radnor, suburbanites worried that their newborn baby girl (played by a ridiculously adorable and expressive infant) will drag them kicking and screaming into adulthood. As if parenting isn’t hard enough, the Radnors must contend with their new neighbors – the men of a local college fraternity led by cocky, manipulative Teddy (Efron).
Neighbors goes beyond the easy Geeks vs. Greeks, recognizing that it has some deeply funny people at its disposal… and those actors already are finding themselves at personal crossroads that come with age. Rogen and Byrne alternate from terrified to jealous as they leer at Efron, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and the well-endowed frat dudes. (Why Rogen and his crew are obsessed with male genitalia remains beyond me.) But neither group is detestable because Stoller makes all of these characters relatable. Old fogies like myself will want Mac and Kelly to maintain the upper hand over these punk assholes. Byrne might have earned the film’s loudest cheer when a vengeance plan she enacts over Franco and Efron falls into place. But the Greeks get their laughs, as well… as when they sneak air bags into Rogen’s seats (a visual gag that made it into the film’s trailers).
Stoller could trim the run time of Neighbors, as the back-and-forth between the warring parties goes from inspired to childish and more than a bit exhausting. But the film has multiple, huge laughs. It plays extremely well with a crowd who is plugged in to the anarchistic rivalry. But it’s also one of those relentlessly dirty comedies that you’ll watch on cable months after you belly laughed through it with your friends and wonder what, exactly, was so hysterical.
The Playlist, Drew Taylor
The last time Universal screened one of their big summer comedies at South by Southwest, it turned out to be "Bridesmaids"—a movie that not only proved to be a massive financial success (and a breakthrough for its cowriter/star Kristin Wiig) but a critical one as well, even earning an Academy Award nomination for its screenplay. So a fair amount of anticipation greeted tonight's "work-in-progress" (although look, it seems totally finished) screening of the new Seth Rogen/Zac Efron comedy "Neighbors." And while "Neighbors" doesn't come close to capturing "Bridesmaids'" emotional honesty, it could have a chance of one-upping that film in the box office. Simply put, "Neighbors" is one of the funniest, most visually inventive studio comedies in recent memory.
When "Neighbors" opens, Rogen and his adorable wife, played by "Bridesmaids"-star Rose Byrne, have just moved into a lovely suburban home with their new baby. Clearly, it's a period of adjustment—they want to go out with their friends but really can’t, and are also falling asleep all the time and having very little uninterrupted sex (in a great scene they have to turn the kid around to keep her from watching them). They face an even greater obstacle when their domestic tranquility is threatened when a fraternity, led by Efron and Dave Franco, moves in next door.
At first they decide to try and bond with their new neighbors, bringing over a peace offering in the form of a perfectly rolled joint and trying their damnedest to be cool (the walk over to the house accompanied by slow motion and a hip hop song might be expected, but it’s still damn funny). Their cocky neighbors vaguely attempt to understand their old person concerns, but their inherent differences quickly chafe. Rogen and Byrne also attend one of their out-of-control parties, which is the opening salvo in what turns out to be some of the most elaborately choreographed and beautifully photographed party sequences we've ever seen in a comedy. But soon things get nasty and a rivalry begins. After a night spent drinking their faces off and, in a wonderful scene reminiscent of "The Trip," comparing Batman impressions, a war between the two factions erupts, with the frat staging party after earth-shattering party and the married couple fighting back in turn.
Other than documenting this natural schism, “Neighbors” is otherwise low on plot, but the jokes and setpieces are so good that it doesn’t really matter. This movie is full of jokes (they seem to ricochet off of each other in all sorts of spectacular ways), and not just jokes but jokes that connect, consistently, more than not. It's all sorts of surprising.
Rogen and director Nicholas Stoller ("Get Him to the Greek," “Five Year Engagement”) are already intimately familiar with he "manchild" subgenre of comedy they’ve ridden for several years now. And writers Andrew Cohen and Brendan O'Brien are able to maintain the same sense of that childish behavior while negotiating the path to maturity (free of mushrooms and bong hits) in an organic and credible manner. There isn't a whole lot of screen time devoted to this clever idea that Efron’s fratboy is Rogen's idealized, younger self, and in turn that Efron is grappling with the idea that he'll soon leave the childish antics of the fraternity behind, but it’s there and adds a lovely, melancholy undercurrent to the movie. In a way, it plays like a bizarre time travel movie… except one with a lot of drug jokes.
Efron and Rogen are flanked by a ridiculously terrific supporting cast, including Ike Barinholtz as Rogen's best friend, Lisa Kudrow as the dean of the frat's college, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as another fraternity brother. But the breakthrough performance in the movie, and the one that took tonight's SXSW screening by storm, is Rose Byrne. For a while she has been playing second banana roles in a number of Judd Apatow comedies (minus last year's abysmal "I Give It A Year"), always stealing a scene here and there but never warping the entire movie around her greatness. But she nearly steals the entire movie, and certainly gets the surprise comedy MVP award. There is one scene in particular, that takes place at the black light party, that’s an astoundingly funny jaw-dropper. She is a fearless comedic performer who is absolutely awe-inspiring in this movie. Rose Byrne is second banana no more.
A runner up for star of the movie is Stoller's direction and Brandon Trost's cinematography. Most studio comedies look flat and over-lit, but "Neighbors" is bathed in deep shadows, with the party sequences electrifying the movie in dazzling ways. Stoller seems patently unafraid of trying new things—and really weird stuff at that—while Trost, a former confederate of Rob Zombie, pushes the visuals brilliantly. The black light party looks like something out of "Spring Breakers" (and, during the Q&A, Stoller said he took inspiration from "Enter the Void"), while other party sequences take on their own cadences. The movie as a whole has a wonderfully playful rhythm, with the jokes rising and falling like crests of a giant ocean wave. But the party sequences really allow the filmmakers to break that rhythm and really stretch themselves creatively. Away from the slightly pat comedies that he has made in the past, Stoller shines. Like Rogen, he seems to have found freedom in maturity and the sublime in silliness. Or is it the other way around? With "Neighbors," we laughed until we ached. Then we laughed some more.
Variety, Andrew Barker
Lewder, weirder, louder, leaner, meaner and more winningly stupid than anything its director Nicholas Stoller and star Seth Rogen have ever been involved with before, frat comedy “Neighbors” boasts an almost oppressive volume of outrageous gags, and provided that audiences don’t mind the lack of anything resembling a coherent story arc, its commercial potential ought to be enormous. Presented as a work-in-progress at SXSW (though aside from missing credits and a few continuity quirks, it appears largely finished), “Neighbors” is an unchecked riot that should go a long way toward selling antagonist Zac Efron as a credible adult actor, though as with anything involving the Greek system, a bit more moderation from the start might have prevented a few headaches afterward.
Rogen and Rose Byrne star as Mac and Kelly, a young married couple whose infant daughter has prompted a move into the suburbs. Aside from the disruption to their sex and social lives — their efforts to organize “baby’s first rave” notwithstanding — the couple seem to be managing the transition to parenthood well, until the property next door is taken over by the Delta Psi Beta fraternity, led by peacocking president Teddy (Efron) and his brainy, just barely sublimated love interest, Pete (Dave Franco).
The frat’s arrival forces Mac and Kelly to confront their own accelerating decline into old fogeydom, as they frantically debate the least-uncool way to deliver the phrase “could you keep it down?” to their new neighbors. The two parties extend some initial olive branches, with Teddy inviting the couple over for some magic mushrooms and Mac strenuously attempting to use the word “trill” in conversation, but when Mac and Kelly finally call the cops on one of the frat’s weeknight ragers, the two houses declare all-out war.
While the film’s first 15 or so minutes bear a notable resemblance to Stoller’s shaggier, more amiable previous efforts like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “The Five-Year Engagement,” at this point the director allows chaos to reign supreme, with the pic quickly turning into “Revenge of the Nerds” by way of “Spring Breakers.” Mac and Kelly’s meeting with the university dean (Lisa Kudrow) reveals that the frat has only two disciplinary strikes left before it will be disbanded, and the couple instigates an elaborate campaign of sabotage, with Delta house responding in kind.
There’s little here that makes much sense from a narrative standpoint — indeed, Rogen’s 2013 hit, “This Is the End,” might as well be Bergman by comparison — yet only occasionally does it matter. Subplots involving Mac and Kelly’s best buddy (Ike Barinholtz) appear to be missing key establishing scenes. At times the film abandons all pretense of sketching a real dramatic arc altogether, simply lining up one outlandish, frenzied setpiece after another. And at the end of the day, there’s no real reason for Efron and Rogen to stage an epic kung fu battle using plaster casts of the Delta house members’ members. But sticklers will be few and far between.
Relegated to middling girlfriend roles for far too long, Byrne is here cast as the most foul-mouthed matriarch this side of “August: Osage County,” and she attacks the role with almost maniacal enthusiasm. But it’s the eternally shirtless ex-teen idol Efron, surprisingly, who delivers the film’s most intriguing performance, crafting a dime-turning combination of brotherly earnestness and Mephistophelean sadism that will ring true to anyone who ever found themselves on the losing end of a wooden paddle.
In some of the film’s best scenes, particularly a hysterical coda outside an Abercrombie & Fitch store, Rogen and Efron’s characters seem less nemeses than distorted reflections of one another. (On some level, Teddy seems to realize it’s only a matter of years before he’ll find himself on the other side of the fence, tormented by a jerk exactly like himself.) It might have been interesting to see a somewhat deeper, more Apatovian take on this theme, though “deeper” is not a direction the film ever seems interested in navigating.
There are a number of missed marks, however. A gag about infant HIV really needs to be funnier than this one is to justify its existence, while a woefully pointless breast-pump fiasco sequence feels almost cynically engineered just to give the film a “Bridesmaids”-style bodily function conversation-starter. (It may as well have been referred to in the script as “that scene.”) It’s an unnecessary but unsurprising move for a movie that values volume over consistency.
Technically speaking, the pic is much better shot and edited than a college comedy really needs to be, with the frequent party scenes in particular taking on an almost surrealistic timbre.
THR, John DeFore
It's breeders against bros in Neighbors, Nicholas Stoller's tale of two young parents who buy their first home only to watch the house next door be invaded by a fraternity bent on one-upping their debauchery-pioneering forebears. Very funny at the outset and escalating steadily for most of its brisk running time, the film represents a big win for neophyte screenwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien, and should return Stoller to the commercial peak of his debut Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Shown here in a cut described as a "work in progress," the picture clearly had its comic pace finely honed. It's possible that, given the raucous response this Paramount Theater crowd gave it, editor Zene Baker will decide to add a second here or there to keep one joke from drowning under another's laughter. One guesses, though, that nothing remains to be done beyond some color timing and technical tweaks.
Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play Mac and Kelly Radner, who are in the phase of marriage in which they try to convince themselves that a mortgage and an infant don't make them uncool. "This is happening!," Rogen keeps exclaiming whenever they have sex someplace other than their marital bed — though doing it in the same room with a wide-eyed baby is more than he can manage.
They want to appear cool even to their new neighbors, practicing ways they can say "keep it down" without sounding like fogies. On an early goodwill visit, they even get caught up in the fun, staying up all night with the chuggers and outdoing them in hallucinogen consumption. But the detente dissolves immediately, with Mac calling the cops on the next all-night rager. Delta Psi president Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) feigns surprised disappointment in his new friends and more or less declares war.
Less an ensemble than many earlier big-screen fraternities, this crew is essentially two alpha males — Teddy and his smarter V.P., Pete (Dave Franco) — leading some anonymous brothers and a few humiliated pledges. Given the time afforded Efron's impressive torso on screen, maybe that slab of beefcake should get equal billing; it certainly offers more to the film than Christopher Mintz-Plasse, whose one-joke role relies on his character's freakishly large genitalia.
Efron is credibly hateful here, his vacant eyes radiating dumb defiance as the frat taunts and abuses the Radners. By contrast, Rogen and Byrne work each other into a frenzy, first trying to stop the pranks, then to avenge them. As the couple's plots grow increasingly aggressive, Byrne gets more freedom than she often does, stealing scenes with last-ditch deviousness. In one divide-and-conquer stratagem, Kelly seduces both Pete and Teddy's girlfriend in order to get them to make out. Mac enjoys watching this so much he forgets he's supposed to be directing Teddy's attention toward the betrayal.
Lisa Kudrow shines in a couple of scenes as the exasperated college dean who wants to pretend Delta Psi isn't a problem, but eventually puts them on probation. After that, the Radners must work not to tame the frat's behavior but to instigate a new outrage — a third strike that will get their house shut down for good. What these sequences lack in intricate plotting they make up for in surprise outbursts of slapstick violence; the movie only resorts to gross-out gags a couple of times, but the ones it employs are memorable.
Neighbors represents a more real-world point of view than Animal House and Old School, one that understands frat-boy excess not as a joyous manifestation of Bacchanalian life-force, but as a pointless, retrograde enterprise that should be stomped mercilessly — even if the middle-class banality that quashes it isn't everyone's ideal of adulthood. If a shirtless Zac Efron sells tickets, the sight of him being bested by proudly flabby Seth Rogen may sell just as many. Isn't it strange to see Seth Rogen becoming a model for the young American grown-up?