Thursday, October 16, 2014

New(ish) Release: Neighbors (2014)

Director: Nicholas Stoller

A pretty amusing flick, with no tremendous surprises for those who know Seth Rogan.

Neighbors is about a late twenty-something couple, Max and Kelly (Rogan and Rose Byrne) who are a few months into their first parenthood. They've just moved into a typically mellow suburban neighborhood, where they plan to begin the "adult" phase of their lives while not admitting to "getting old." Soon, the house next door is sold to a full-on, Animal House-style fraternity. The frat is headed by the impossibly handsome and charismatic Teddy (Zac Efron), who quickly begins to oversee bacchanalian parties of epic scale and scope right next to Max and Kelly and their infant daughter. What commences is an ever-escalating war of one-upmanship and sabotage between the neighbors.

If you've seen anything with Seth Rogan in it in the last decade, you have a solid idea of what to expect. There's some excellent blue humor, rapid-fire extemporaneous exchanges, and use of subject matter that has often been seen as taboo (having sex in front of your infant, breast feeding, and drug use, to name a few). The shift here for Rogan is one that is obvious and almost necessary for him as an actor, as well as a character - the conflicting desire for and fear of leaving behind the irresponsible days of his youth. For the most part, he still plays the immature, foul-mouthed, yet affable teddy bear that he's always played, and he continues to do it well.

While other female characters have had some great roles in
Seth Rogen films, Rose Byrne as Kelly might be the first one
who truly stands on equal footing with the dudes in every way. 
Probably the most singular thing about Neighbors is that the the character of Kelly is just as immature, foul-mouthed, and vicious as her husband. In fact, this idea is worked into one dialogue about how there should only be one "dumb husband" (or "Kevin James," as they call it) in a marriage. I loved this idea since the tired formula of dumb, infantile husband + sexy, responsible, yet tolerant wife is so old that is became offensive long ago. It's about time that the female character enjoy the freedom of being hilariously selfish.

The other selling point of Neighbors is what we've always gotten from Rogen's films, especially those directed by Judd Apatow - the heart. Even going all the way back to Superbad and every film since then, the theme of the endearing male friendship has run throughout. And it's not so dull that I can refer to it by the term "bromance" (another concept that's explored in Neighbors), but there is a satisfying sense of reconciliation at various points in the story.

And it's that reconciliation that sets Rogen's films apart from their predecessors. Instead of following the classic formula of '70s and '80s comedy, with the dichotomy of "good" and "evil" being crystal clear, these films ultimately just want people to get along. Sure, it's a tad sentimental, but not overly so. If it were, I wouldn't keep going to see each of Rogen's new films and enjoying each one, to some degree or another.