My favorite scene from the surprisingly superb “Neighbors” happens to be one of the smallest. It features Zac Efron's Teddy watching his best friend Pete (Dave Franco) meet with potential employers in preparation for life after college. All Efron, who shortly before admits to possessing a less than impressive GPA, can do is stuff a lollipop in his mouth and walk away as his friend’s future comes to fruition.
There’s nothing obviously exceptional about the short and bittersweet scene, but it serves as one of many emotional underpinnings that grounds “Neighbors'” general zaniness. In a film littered with many goofy, raunchy and rather funny shenanigans, the little moments like that one with Efron make what would be a run-of-the-mill “Animal House” knockoff into a memorable film possessing a lovely underlying sweetness.
That sweetness reveals itself during the first encounter between Efron's fraternity and new neighbors Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), as the college students' begin to “ooh” and coo at the married couple's adorable infant daughter Stella. It even appears to be the start of a cordial relationship, with Rogen and Byrne receiving a polite invite to attend the fraternity's raucous house-warming party.
An accord is reached quickly in which Rogen and Byrne would ask Efron to turn the music down in lieu of going to the cops, although the agreement is nullified the following night when a similarly loud party keeps the neighboring family awake and attempts to reach Efron via repeated phone calls fail.
The call to the cops ignites a war between the titular neighbors encompassing broken water mains, dangerously misused airbags, some cunning, Jezebel-like subterfuge by Byrne, a series of increasingly poor and misquoted Robert De Niro impersonations until the final showdown. Oh, and there’s a dance off between Rogen and Efron thrown in as well.
Certain parts of the previews for “Neighbors'” are rather accurate representations about the viewing experience: The humor is puerile and sexual in nature, Rogen is tossed about like a rag doll on several occasions, and Rogen and Efron each spend a fair amount of the film shirtless. They’re necessary elements though to ensure the film meets its college-comedy requirements, and director Nicholas Stoller does a splendid job presenting juvenile comedy so winningly. Props also go to Efron for sporting a dreamily impressive torso. (Seriously how many crunches does the dude do a day?)
What those previews miss though are the two major elements that separate “Neighbors” from bunk like “Porky's” or the average Adam Sandler film, the first being Byrne's heavy involvement in the dirty deeds between the two domiciles. This isn't an occasion in which the long-suffering wife has to put up with her husband's childlike status; rather, she schemes right alongside Rogen and comes up with the most ingenious trick to play on their younger neighbors. There's even a short scene in which Byrne and Rogen argue over which of the two is supposed to be responsible – as Rogen phrases it in a terrific and succinct manner, they can't both be Kevin James.
It’s for the film’s betterment that neither character is really Kevin James in this situation, nor is there a Kevin James type figure in the film. Despite the escalation of the impish battle, no one from the collection of Rogen, Byrne, Efron or Franco is portrayed as bad person; they're actually pretty decent human beings who act the way they do out of a combination of fear and disappointment about what comes next in their lives. Efron really has no idea of what he'll do once his senior year ends and reality comes calling, while Rogen and Byrne want to stave off the boring life that accompanies parenthood. As Rogen and Byrne show, it’s difficult to enjoy a rave while lugging around an infant in a Baby Bjorn.
All three characters lack direction, and “Neighbors” uses that to remove any real cruelty from their actions; they’re more angry and frustrated at themselves than they are at the people on the other side of the fence.
Most importantly, none of the three major stars in “Neighbors” are forced to grow up; rather, the filmmakers simply guide them toward the important self-realization. In other words, being a parent is pretty cool (at least it is for the ones who dress their kid up like Walter White for a calendar), and, hey, fun and prosperous times still await after the party ends.
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