Tag: nicholas stoller


Neighbors (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) have just moved into their new home and are ecstatic to raise their newborn baby girl in it. Just about everything is going right, aside from occasional concerns that they might have lost their youth and sense of fun, until a fraternity moves in right next door. Mac and Kelly are horrified, but they decide to “play it cool.” After all, they were young and in college once. So, they approach the president of the frat, Teddy (Zac Efron), and make sure all of them start off on the right foot. They do… temporarily. Then the loud partying begins.

You know you’re getting old when you start rooting for the parents more than the college students who just want to have some fun. “Neighbors,” written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, offers more than handful funny individual lines and exchanges, but it is far from a comedy that will stand the test of time, the kind that dares to set a standard. It is passable as light entertainment—nothing more—and there is nothing wrong with that if that is what one was looking for.

I enjoyed the performances as a whole especially Rogen and Byrne who play characters that consider themselves as “hip” mentally but their bodies say otherwise. They are convincing as parents who raise a child together, making a lot of mistakes along the way, and craving for some peace and quiet at the end of the day. Because it is relatively easy to buy into their characters, more due to the actors’ charm than a well-written characterization, Mac and Kelly’s efforts to shut down the fraternity becomes a good source of entertainment. There are few lines they are willing to cross to beat the beer-drinking, pot-smoking college students.

Efron and Dave Franco, the latter playing Pete as the frat’s vice president, also share good chemistry. And like Rogen and Byrne’s characters, these two are also thinly written although the effort is clearly there. I liked that the writers make Teddy and Pete nice guys in general. Sure, in reality, there are frat guys who are plain jerks, but from my personal experience, the guys that I met in college who happen to be in a frat are more like Teddy and Pete. You can approach, talk to, and joke around with them without them having to make you feel bad for not being in their circle of bros.

The greatest limitation of the film, directed by Nicholas Stoller, is its relatively stagnant screenplay. It fails to move beyond two neighbors attempting to get the upper hand. Is the point to show that Mac and Kelly, despite having a house and kid, do have some key similarities with their fun-loving neighbors? It would appear so. But such a message is obvious. Discerning viewers will easily recognize this less than halfway through and the rest becomes repetitive.

A dramatic shift in the latter half might have elevated the material. The two leaders of the fraternity should have been key to create a dramatic pull. First, Pete looking forward to starting his career outside of college. Second, Teddy’s fears that he might have peaked. During the Career Fair scene, a man who works for AT&T tells Teddy that they are not interested in considering to hire someone who is dumb. Efron may not be the most versatile actor—yet—but why not explore those fears a bit more?

The answer is, like in most mainstream comedies, to keep the laughs going. It is less of a risk to try to be funny consistently even if it does not feel right for the material than to switch it up suddenly and really surprise the audience, to give them something they did not expect coming into the picture. Such is the definition of average: no more, no less.

The Five-Year Engagement

The Five-Year Engagement (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Tom (Jason Segel) felt it was time for him and his girlfriend, Violet (Emily Blunt), to get married and settle down so he proposed to her exactly a year since they met during a New Year’s Eve party in San Francisco. Violet was happy and excited to accept the proposal but this was before she found out that she’d been accepted to attend the University of Michigan to further her studies in social psychology. Although Tom agreed to uproot his career as a sous-chef in the West Coast and move with Violet to Michigan, he became increasingly unhappy upon realizing that his life, personal and professional, had grown stagnant. “The Five-Year Engagement,” based on the screenplay by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, had good bits of comedy but was at its prime when it took an unblinking look at a relationship, once healthy and mutualistic, being swarmed by jealousy, guilt, and resentment as one’s success became hand-in-hand with the other’s failure. Casting Segel and Blunt as a couple was both surprising and effective. One rather ordinary-looking and the other quite stunning, the actors were given the responsibility to build and continually work on their chemistry in order to create a believable couple whom we cared about as a duo as well as individuals. Over time, we came understand what Tom saw in Violet and, perhaps more importantly, what Violet saw in Tom. We’ve all come across couples and wondered what one was doing with the other given that we happen to believe that one was not quite on the “same level” of attractiveness as the other. I enjoyed that the writing was aware enough to acknowledge that fact without being so blunt about it. Furthermore, in order to balance negative emotions like fears and insecurities, there was also a lot of sweetness and tenderness between Tom and Violet. Interestingly enough, however, the supporting actors’ ability to steal the spotlight benefited and hurt the the film. Chris Pratt as Tom’s best friend and Alison Brie as Violet’s sister had hilarious lines of dialogue that each time they were on screen, I was excited by the unpredictability of their comic performances. Pratt and Brie commanded such presence that at times I wished the picture was about them. With a running time of about two hours, the bulk of Tom and Violet’s relationship, specifically after they moved to Michigan, contained a lot of sadness which eventually began to feel like a trial. The situations and feelings that were explored were absolutely necessary to story but the pacing was occasionally slow-moving and the various attempts at humor by the central couple were neither consistently funny nor as exciting as the couple serving as foils. Instead of the subplot involving Violet and her professor, arguably the weakest and most predictable part of the film, I would like to have seen the material explore the pressures that Tom and Violet felt from their parents, how the latter kept pushing them to just get married already. A lot of it was played for laughs but when it took a more serious approach, it was both genuine and challenging. Directed by Nicholas Stoller, it was apparent that the struggle between making a strong artistic statement about modern couples and achieving commercial success hindered “The Five-Year Engagement” from reaching its true potential. For what it is, however, it was still a good show.

The Muppets

The Muppets (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Gary (Jason Segel) and Mary (Amy Adams) were supposed to go to Hollywood to celebrate their tenth anniversary of being in a serious relationship, but considering that Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) was very close to Gary, leaving his brother–who happened to be a puppet–just wouldn’t seem right. The trio headed to Los Angeles by bus, leaving Smalltown for a bit of adventure. During a tour in the derelict Muppet Studio, Walter overheard Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), an oil baron, discussing of his excitement about finally getting his hands on the property, demolishing it, and extracting valuable oil from underneath. Within two weeks, if the Muppets could not come up with ten million dollars to buy back the building, their legacy would literally be a pile of dust. While I didn’t grow up watching Kermit (Steve Whitmire), Miss Piggy (Eric Jacobson), Gonzo (Dave Goelz), and the rest of the gang, I found “The Muppets,” written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, to be very funny because the jokes’ punchlines had a self-awareness and there was always something new to poke fun of whether it was a Muppet’s quirk or a commentary about us and how we, unlike the beloved puppets some of us grew up watching, tend to take ourselves too seriously. While the film was equipped with easy slapstick humor and bathroom jokes for the little ones, most teens and adults would find that the script was unexpectedly witty and charming. For example, have you ever wondered if the really energetic back-up dancers in big musical numbers ever got tired performing and putting on silly grins just in case the camera went for a dire close-up? What had the Muppets been up to ever since they lost popularity? Were people and Muppets at all suspicious that Gary and Walter were actually biological brothers? The film provided a range of answers while, in some cases, it simply asked, “Why not?” The picture was at its most creative when the gang was back together to do a televised fundraiser. From musical numbers, incidental jokes, and downright weird performances, it was impossible to resist the Muppets’ charm. I wished, however, that there were more scenes dedicated to Kermit, Walter, Gary, and Mary attempting to persuade the former Muppets to get together and raise money. As it turned out, the Muppets didn’t do a very good job with keeping in touch with one another for many years. Kermit’s sudden appearance in their lives, some of them actually leading successful ones, being enough to be fully convinced that a reunion was an excellent idea felt, at times, too superficial. The only one who really had to think about it, given her hilarious flair for the dramatic, was Miss Piggy, sporting an Anna Wintour haircut and ‘tude. Nevertheless, “The Muppets,” based on the characters by Jim Henson and directed by James Bobin, moved at an enthusiastic pace, leaving us no time to think about its inconsistencies. But then again why focus on the imperfections when it was there was a storm of positivity outside? According to the similarly addictive and adorable “Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain,” the fool looks at a finger that points at the sky.