One of the unexpectedly pleasant offshoots of the criticism often lobbed at Seth Rogen that he plays the same character in every movie is that, as he continues to release films, we've actually gotten to see this guy go from man-child to man-adult over the span of the nearly 10 years since The 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN. In 2007's KNOCKED UP, Rogen was a man clearly ill-prepared for parenthood, but with his latest film, NEIGHBORS, he plays Mac, a new parent trying harder than anyone I've seen on film in quite some time to balance the adult responsibilities of being a dad while still making time to have a little fun with his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne).
You probably thought from all of the commercials for NEIGHBORS that this was a film about a college fraternity moving into the house next door to this young couple with a newborn. That's just what happens in the film, but that's not really what it's about. This is a smart, shrewd movie about growing up, a lesson learned by Kelly and Mac, as well as a few of the young men living next door, but not all involved take to the lesson without resistance. Kelly and Mac are having a tough time adjusting their schedule and being on 24-hour on-call baby duty. Things are only made worse when the frat boys move in, despite all parties making a real effort to make it work.
The head of the fraternity, Teddy (Zac Efron, finally finding his funny after several failed attempts), makes it clear that all they have to do is ask if things get too loud and rowdy. But when this fails, Mac calls the cops (or maybe it's just "cop," since we only ever seen one in the form of the very funny Hannibal Buress), and Teddy considers this offense an act of war. A great deal of NEIGHBORS is a combination of Kelly and Mac trying to appear cool by partying at the fraternity, and the two houses doing as much as they can to either disturb the other's sleep or destroy the other's house so they'll have to move.
Admittedly, the premise sounds childish. But there is something admirable about the level of adulthood this couple is trying to achieve. They want to appear cool to the kids next door, but more importantly, they want to live in a quiet home where they can raise their daughter without an army of swinging dicks next door. And perhaps the strangest thing about the whole film is that it wasn't written by Seth Rogen, who seems the likeliest candidate. Instead, the screenplay comes from the team of Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O'Brien, with the great Nick Stoller (FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, GET HIM TO THE GREEK) directing.
NEIGHBORS has a few not-so-secret weapons in the form of some of the supporting players, led by Dave Franco as Teddy's right-hand man Pete, who seems to get that college is both a time for fun and a time to grow up a little—a fact that is flying right over Teddy's perfect head. Franco is getting noticeably funnier with each new film, and I've grown to genuinely anticipate what he's got coming up next. (I know he's got at least a cameo in 22 JUMP STREET—can't wait!) There are also great appearances from the likes of Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and even a very funny turn by Lisa Kudrow as the school's dean.
The sheer volume of jokes that score is impressive, but what's even more worthy of your attention is how much heart there is at the core of this film. Most of the soul of the film rests with Byrne, who has someone managed to carve out solid a career built upon fantastic dramatic and comedic roles over the years. In NEIGHBORS, she does a bit of both, as the pressures of raising a newborn combined with the stress of unruly dudes living next door cause her to lose control of her temper and emotions. Rogen is more of a "laughing or yelling" type of actor, but he's still effective and he delivers the film's best lines, especially the ones about how perfect Efron's body is.
I'm not sure how great the summer's comic book/giant monster & robots/evil queen/sci-fi/animation/talking apes movies are going to pan out, but I like the way the comedies are starting out, which means nothing, but it makes me happy. NEIGHBORS has more going on than just partying and pranks, but if that were all it had, it would still be pretty damn funny. As it is, it's a film that isn't afraid to mix laughs with one or two genuine emotions between adults and best friends. I never guessed this movie would be a feel-good experience in classic sense, but it turns out that it is. There are also a ton of dick jokes. So now you know…