★★ / ★★★★
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.