Strong laughs and Rose Byrne highlight this comedy
College movies are a right of passage. There’s at least one every decade that serves as a time capsule for the college experience. They don’t always have to involve a frat on double secret probation doing shenanigans. Sometimes it can be about guy who gets no respect going back to school; involve a road trip where we learn the secret ingredient of roadside diner French toast, or have Dawson Leery leaving his creek so that he can better understand The Rules of Attraction. By and large, though, it is the college party comedies that have a lasting impact on impressionable teens wanting to know what college holds in store.
Neighbors, the latest from writer-director Nicholas Stoller, is a college comedy that will soon be mentioned in the same breath as National Lampoon’s Animal House and Old School as the greatest college party films ever made. As great as it is seeing Robert Carradine, Curtis Armstrong and the rest of the Lamda Lamda Lamdas breaking into a sorority Mission: Impossible style in Revenge of the Nerds, I’d much rather take Rose Byrne walking into a frat house and making all the guys go from six to midnight while watching her own the room. To say any more would give the scene away, but it is an incredible site, watching Ms. Byrne be the MVP of a raunchfest starring Seth Rogen and Zac Efron.
Having played to a great reaction at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival, much like Bridesmaids did several years ago, Stoller’s comedy delivers an assortment of laughs. Something as small as missing airbags becomes sublime when used in a retaliatory matter.
Wait, I feel like I’ve missed something. Like my dad telling a joke. “Oh, wait back up. I forgot to tell you the cowboy rode a blue horse.” (Thumbs up if you get the reference.) The Radners, Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne), are new parents to a precocious daughter but have mixed emotions about being parents. They love her to pieces, but they also miss their old, fun lives. The belief is that these two married college sweethearts can still be hip, perhaps to one day take their daughter to raves. Yet, when the opportunity to have some late-night fun occurs it usually ends with them falling asleep before making it out the door. With Mac as the cubicle drone and Kelly as the stay-at-home mom you can see where malaise sets in.
But when a fraternity moves in next door the couple is all for attending an all-night party within range of their baby monitor. Kelly mingles with the resident harlots, while Mac chews one too many mushrooms. When one party becomes an every night occurrence, it starts a war. First involving cops, then escalating to being Mac and Kelly versus the Delta Psi fraternity.
On paper it looks like suburbanites butting heads with beer-pong playing college kids. Oh, it’s that, but so much more. Of course there’s the harebrained revenge scenarios that you’d think were planned by Wile E. Coyote. Lots of stupid pratfalls expected there – including a type of sword fight that I don’t think the new Star Wars will be able to touch. But screenwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien take it beyond the realm of two houses fighting to provide nuance. That nuance is the acknowledgement of the fear of growing up.
For Delta Psi president Teddy (Zac Efron) his ultimate goal is to throw the biggest bash in Greek history so his chapter can join the beer-chugging giants that came before him and invented toga parties, beer pong, and who could forget the practice of vomiting in your shoe so you can keep cheering and drinking at football games. Along for the ride is Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who has morphed beyond McLovin to be some college Lothario, and Dave Franco, who does a spot-on Robert De Niro impression, playing the erudite giant of the fraternity. He also has an impressive mentalist trick where he can get an erection on command. Definite skill set to include on a resume.
By now we know what to expect from Seth Rogen with his body of work, having honed his comic delivery and writing skills under the tutelage of Judd Apatow. His pairing with Zac Efron is interesting in the same respects of the Jonah Hill/Channing Tatum team-up in 21 Jump Street. Rogen’s characters have primarily been man-children. Efron has played the heartthrob, done Nicholas Sparks’ schmaltz, and is giving comedy a try this year with Neighbors and January’s That Awkward Moment. Plus his non-fraternity Greek Adonis body makes Mac slovenly gush that he “looks like something a gay guy designed in a laboratory.” Touché.
The two provide lots of laughs but Rose Byrne is the star. You have to give it to Cohen and O’Brien to have a script that doesn’t make Byrne’s character a spectator to the tomfoolery between the two houses. By having her be an active participant she earns her laughs by helping to drive the action instead of being reactionary.
Because behind every good man is a woman that will use her feminine wiles to entice a horny college kid to believe it’s okay to put a ho before a bro.
Director: Nicholas Stoller Writer(s): Andrew Jay Cohen & Brendan O’Brien Notable Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!