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SXSW 2014: Nordling Reviews NEIGHBORS!

Nordling here.

Nick Stoller's previous two comedies, FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL and THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT, are very funny movies that really have only one issue that keeps them from true greatness - both run a bit long, and some selective editing could have streamlined them and made them better movies.  NEIGHBORS doesn't have that problem - it's as lean as a perfect steak, or Zac Efron's shirtless chest for the ladies, and there will be a lot of audiences who see NEIGHBORS that will be left breathless with laughter.  This has likely won Best Comedy Film of the Summer right out the gate, and it's only March.  What was shown at SXSW was called an unfinished edit, but minus the end credits, it's about as finished as it could be.  I'm afraid for them to edit any more, in fact, because it feels like a perfectly engineered comedy that will make audiences very happy when it opens this May.

This shouldn't be a surprise; producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are at that point in their careers that, if it were to be compared to anything, would be that moment in the late 1970s - early 1980s where all the comedy coming out from the SNL alumni was pure magic.  Perhaps this is their ANIMAL HOUSE.  Judging by the subject, it certainly feels like this generation's answer to that comedy masterpiece.  But while ANIMAL HOUSE reminisced about men being boys in the 1960s, NEIGHBORS looks with a bit of reflection during the present day, both at young parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) as they realize that their social lifes have changed forever now that they have a newborn, and at Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco), the heads of the frat, as they take that final step towards adulthood and responsibility.

When the fraternity Delta Psy Beta moves into the house next door, Mac and Kelly try to make peace with their new neighbors, because hey, maybe some time they might get a sitter and want to party with these guys.  But Teddy's on a mission - he doesn't want to graduate without making the frat's Wall of Legend, and while the rest of the frat is out to party as relentlessly as possible, Pete and the others realize that eventually, they do need to make the transition out.  Teddy isn't interested, and soon the excessive partying of the frat comes head-to-head with Mac and Kelly's need for peace and quiet.  War is inevitable.

Fortunately, the trailers are vague about certain plot points that come along, so if you've seen the trailer you've only seen a very little bit of the fun that NEIGHBORS offers.  When the battle lines are drawn, no punches are pulled, and there will be many jokes lost in the uproarious laughter of the audience.  I love that Seth Rogen steps back a bit to allow the other actors to have their comedic time in the sun, especially Zac Efron in what is easily his best performance.  But it's Rose Byrne that utterly walks away with NEIGHBORS.  She holds her own with the boys and delivers a really funny, honest performance.  One sequence, as Rose tries to crack open the ultimate "Bros before hos" bond between frat brothers, is brilliant and hilarious, and the audience erupted into applause just like when you see your heroes in a great action movie walk away slow-motion from a massive explosion.

All the supporting cast shines here, like Dave Franco, who has a superpower to rival the rest of the superheroes coming this summer, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Ike Barinholtz, Jason Mantzoukas, Lisa Kudrow, and Hannibal Buress are all equally funny and given great moments onscreen.  The irreverence of NEIGHBORS is its strongest asset, and director Stoller, with a script from Andrew Cohen and Brendan O'Brien, keeps everything moving at a terrific pace.  The jokes stack on top of each other, and while many other comedies tend to be top-heavy when it comes to the comedy, NEIGHBORS remains consistent throughout, with a very strong finish.

Even throughout all the dick jokes and humor, NEIGHBORS has a lot of heart, and even some thematic weight as these characters contemplate their places and their roles as they grow into new phases of their lives.  Mac and Kelly are struggling with being parents, and leaving behind that party life, and worry that their free spirits will be stifled by their new responsibilities, while the frat boys are figuring out what happens next for them after graduation.  None of this distracts from the humor, but it gives NEIGHBORS some terrific subtext and makes the movie that much richer.  Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have always made movies that can equally balance those exploration of relationships with moments of deep from-the-gut laughter, and NEIGHBORS continues that trend.

I don't anticipate anything dethroning NEIGHBORS as the comedy movie of the summer.  If anything can, more power to them.  But NEIGHBORS is about as funny a movie as I've seen from Rogen, Goldberg, and Nick Stoller, and if the audience of the Paramount last night was any indication, NEIGHBORS is going to be wildly successful.

Nordling, out.

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