The Bock’s Office: Good boundaries make good ‘Neighbors’
May 15, 2014
We know what the university experience is like for ages 18 to 25 thanks to classics like "Animal House" and "Revenge of the Nerds," but seeing it through the eyes of someone outside the student body doesn't inspire hope for the future. Maybe that's why "Neighbors" is a lot less amusing than it means to be.
Suburban couple Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne) love their infant daughter, Stella, but with no other friends who are parents, their quiet, kid-friendly lifestyle is starting to become boring. That all changes when the "For Sale" sign is removed from the lawn of the house next door.
Their new neighbors are the brothers of college fraternity Delta Psi Beta, whose reputation for being legendary partiers is something that intrigues and infuriates Mac and Kelly.
Their attempts to show the chapter president, Teddy (Zac Efron), that they can be cool starts out all right, but once the blaring music and raucous celebrations continue well past a reasonable hour, enough is enough.
Involving the police accomplishes nothing other than convincing Teddy and the rest of the frat boys that the "old people" can't be trusted, and soon things are much worse.
With their lives at home unbearable because of the constant noise, messes and pranks provided by their neighbors, Mac and Kelly decide the only way to get any peace is to get the college brats kicked out of school.
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Since it wasn't too long ago Rogen would have been on the other side of this battle, he's a little hard to believe as a husband and father, though his frequent complaints about having to be a grown-up shed some light on his casting. The fact that in real life he's only five years older than his co-star kind of adds to the confusion, but when you're getting pummeled by airbags in unexpected places, who really cares about age?
Byrne seems more at ease as a new mommy in need of some excitement beyond the usual game of peekaboo, also proving she's still got the stuff when it comes to hardcore revelry.
Efron's good boy image continues to dissolve this year, after the equally raunchy "That Awkward Moment," as a dude who's way too immersed in Greek life, hoping to uphold the traditions of an organization that claims to have invented staples such as the toga party, beer pong and the idea of the "boot and rally."
Still, above those chiseled abs, beneath his perfectly sculpted hair and behind his puppy dog eyes, Teddy's got a brain and probably could have a real future if he focused his attention on classes instead of keggers, hazing pledges and sharing debauchery with his pals (Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jerrod Carmichael).
Whatever — you never get those four years back, so YOLO, right?
A cop (Hannibal Buress), who doesn't want to be bothered by nonsense, and a collegiate official (Lisa Kudrow) quick to make excuses as long as she can't get in trouble show that you can take the "boys will be boys" train of thought pretty far in a society that overlooks and often rewards perpetual adolescence.
Dean Wormer wouldn't be happy.
There's always new ways to test the limits of the gross-out genre, and here we have a fundraiser using homemade sex toys — it's for a good cause — a pair of lactating breasts filled to dangerous proportions and a baby playing with a particularly vile piece of trash in the front yard that's not a balloon.
What's puzzling is why director Nicholas Stoller and screenwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien stop where they do. They could go way further in the craziness that is the fraternity, and the need to give these party animals a sensitive side only weakens them.
At least the depiction of millenials who can't differentiate between Robert De Niro and Al Pacino is accurate.
It's Mac and Kelly who aren't exactly in our good graces. Why should we feel much compassion for parents whose main motivation for cleaning up the neighborhood is less about giving their child a better life and more about doing away with the temptation to have a good time?
Before the Delta Psis are even introduced, the two already are seriously considering "Baby's First Rave" at the bequest of their single friend (Carla Gallo). Don't worry, they fall asleep while packing up the kid's accoutrements, but the point is you don't have to be an undergrad to make bad choices.
For what it is, "Neighbors" can be funny, but the need to make everyone likable coupled with the poor sense of when the line has and hasn't been crossed keep it a second-rate comedy.
Just like getting blackout drunk the night before your final exams, you can't realistically expect to do stupid things and still have a happy ending.
Although, if you can, keep on chugging, bro.