The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"NEIGHBORS"

Neighbors

Every generation seems to have its own distinct style of cinematic comedy. I grew up in the '80s, the heyday of Saturday Night Live performers like Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, John Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd. While the films they made were all different in subject matter, most of them shared a sensibility. The same could be said of the current crop of top comedy stars, people like Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and Jonah Hill. Whenever a group of like-minded comedians are on the scene at the same time (and often working together in some combination), you tend to get a slew of movies that collectively generate a certain magic. Just as Caddyshack, Stripes, and The Blues Brothers continue to delight fans decades after their release, it's safe to say that thirty years from now, folks will still be enjoying the pleasures of Superbad, This Is the End, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and now Neighbors. All have hilariously raunchy humor anchored by relatable, human-centered ideals. That's this particular generation's hallmark.

The plot is beautiful in its simplicity. Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are a couple with a newborn baby. The house right next door is purchased by a rowdy college fraternity, led by Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron). At first, the Radners try to be cool about it, even going so far as to party with the frat brothers on their first night in the neighborhood. But when the increasingly loud parties start taking place every night, disrupting the infant's sleep, they call the cops. This sets off a war between them and the fraternity.

Neighbors is the kind of comedy that involves people doing not very nice things to each other. Mac and Kelly try to drive the brothers out of the neighborhood by, among other things, embroiling them in a hazing scandal. Meanwhile, Teddy and crew steal the airbags out of Mac's car and install them in his office furniture, so that he's launched into the air whenever he sits down. Unlike The Other Woman, another recent comedy that mines laughs from people being cruel to one another, Neighbors works because it makes all the characters likeable, even when they're doing unlikeable things. The movie's underlying joke is that the Radners secretly want to be Teddy they miss their more carefree days while Teddy is secretly afraid of becoming them, all grown up and with adult responsibilities. That subtle comic idea means that there are no bad guys here, just people with motivations we can understand, despite the outrageousness of their actions.

The big jokes are hilarious, and there are a lot of them. The best involve Mac and Kelly's attempts to prevent their baby from being exposed to the aftermath of the frat's insane parties, although many of the crazy stunts pulled by the adversaries are side-splitters, as well. Rogen and director Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek) are both veterans of the Judd Apatow school of comedy, and Neighbors has the distinct envelope-pushing comedic spirit he has fostered in so many of his proteges. Drugs, sex, nudity, and profanity are all combined in unique ways to generate sudden, unexpected laughs. But the movie's throwaway bits are just as hysterical, sometimes even more so. There's a running gag about Kelly constantly hauling the baby monitor with her when she ventures into fraternity territory, while Rogen tosses off some witty, under-the-radar one-liners that could fly right by if you're not paying attention.

Rogen is incredibly funny here, putting a twist on his distinct mannerisms and style of delivery by playing a character who is motivated not by man-child impulses, but rather by grown-up necessity. Casting him against type was a stroke of genius. Rose Byrne is equally good, once again displaying an ability to earn huge laughs by approaching the material completely straight. Between this, Bridesmaids and Get Him to the Greek, Byrne has proven to be a top comedic actress. The real revelation of Neighbors, though, is Zac Efron. In his film career thus far, he's coasted by playing nice guys in earnest romantic dramas like The Lucky One or bland comedies such as New Year's Eve. As Teddy, he embraces his devilish side, brilliantly portraying a guy with both a hedonistic and a mean streak. At the same time, his performance is funny because it's so real. Teddy's got more going on inside than it appears on the surface. He's nice, but also messed up and driven by things he doesn't realize are bad for him. Efron completely sells that, delivering the most unexpected and revelatory screen comedy work since Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street.

Neighbors does what Rogen, Stoller, Byrne, and others of this comic generation do so well: use normal people, everyday situations, and relatable emotions as a springboard for edgy, no holds barred, hard-R humor. Running a tight ninety-six minutes, Neighbors delivers big laughs from the start and never lets up. When it's all said and done, you laugh not just because the material is raucous, but because you understand what it's like to be Mac and Kelly. And you probably understand what it's like to be Teddy, too.

( 1/2 out of four)


Neighbors is rated PG-13 for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.


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