“Neighbors” Review

Photo courtesy of Universal.

Photo courtesy of Universal.

This article was originally published at milowickipedia.wordpress.com

It’s been seven months now since I first saw the gag-filled trailer for Neighbors. As the release date drew nearer, I was exceedingly nervous and worried that my ever-increasing excitement was bound for disappointment. Yet to my surprise, the finished product actually exceeded the very high expectations I set for the movie. In doing so, it easily stands as the funniest and most inventive movie of 2014 so far.

Written by two newcomers and expertly directed by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Neighbors takes the studio R-rated comedy to a whole new level, blending truly nonstop bursts of humor with characters who are far more well-written than they ever needed to be. The end result is a film that on the surface that seems completely outrageous (as these types of movies often are), but one that has the darnedest sense of humanity and authenticity lurking a few layers deeper. All this is done in a comedic self-reflexive way, through a flurry of intelligent pop culture references and equal commentaries on the natures of suburban living and the fraternity mindset.

In a suburban college town, a young married couple (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) with a newborn work hard to maintain the spark in the relationship, all the while struggling to deal with the adverse effects on their parenting brought about by the frat house next door. Mac and Kelly must learn to embrace their inner party animal and think like college students in order to outwit the formidable fraternity led by Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco).

The face-off between the epicurean lifestyle of a frat and a new family stuck in a bit of arrested development is a truly brilliant premise indeed, and Neighbors certainly doesn’t disappoint in bringing it to life. For starters, the film doesn’t take the easy out by condemning the destructive behavior of the college kids. In a dazzling tightrope act, the film’s tone supports presenting the pros and cons of both ways of life, and by the end, I felt a good deal of empathy for both sides. The main reason that this unlikely balance is achieved is that these characters, while admittedly silly and a bit foolhardy, seem very real and not merely caricatures.

Making this work is the phenomenal comedic timing, improvisation skills, and chemistry displayed by the lead actors. Rogen and Byrne are hilarious as the young souls in older bodies. We’ve come to expect this type of role from Rogen, but it is Byrne who really shines, showing a willingness to match the mostly male cast gag for gag and curse for curse. She is also responsible for one of the best scenes of the year, and hands-down the most memorable (I won’t spoil too much, but I’ll never listen to Fergie’s “London Bridge” the same way again). Efron is really starting to come into his own as a viable star, following up his laudable turn in That Awkward Moment with another hilarious and simultaneously heartfelt portrayal of a big man on campus fearful that his college years will be his life’s peak.

There’s a much deeper supporting cast than an $18 million budget would usually garner. Along with Dave Franco and Christopher Mintz-Plasse leading the way, there are a plethora of minor roles and cameos that I will not spoil. Each actor is on their best comic form, and nearly every joke hits home with a great payoff.

Now don’t get me wrong: the humor in this film is downright vile. You’ve got dozens of F words, plenty of penis jokes, and all the drugs and alcohol you can cram into 96 minutes. But the negative stigma associated with those things doesn’t apply here, because they’re presented in ways which (someway, somehow) advance the story and never wear thin.  Chalk this achievement up to the sharp writing and excellent cinematography. For a movie that takes place almost entirely in two houses, there is never a shortage of new angles or visuals. Each party (and there are plenty) looks different than the next, as the camera experiments with different lighting and varying levels of realism. There are some instances where the film looks similar to the wacky visual palette of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and that is music to my ears anytime.

Writing a review for a comedy is always difficult for me, because I always feel obligated not to spoil any of the best jokes. Typically, that leaves me with little else to say, as humor often comes at the expense of good story or technically interesting elements. However, Neighbors is equally great on those terms, and that is what elevates the film beyond any comedy in recent memory. Come for the inventive visual gags and laugh-a-minute screenplay, but stay for the self-aware look at the end of youth, the differing interpretations of family, and the blinding sheen of revenge.

Neighbors has much more intelligence and heart than it ever needed to have, but never complain when there’s a surplus, right? It is these extra nuggets of realism and feeling which elevate the funniest film of the year to arguably the best film of 2014 thus far.

RYAN’s RATING: 4 Stars out of 4

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