by Mel Valentin
Seth Rogen has been working – not to mention, profiting from – his stoner schlub comic persona for the better part of decade, beginning with the Judd Apatow-directed "Knocked Up" (Rogen also co-wrote the screenplay with longtime friend/collaborator Evan Goldberg) eight long years ago with no end point in sight. Although Rogen didn’t write or co-write his latest starring effort, "Neighbors," it’s practically a sequel, albeit an unofficial one, to "Knocked Up." Like "Knocked Up," "Neighbors" centers on characters suffering from acute, chronic cases of arrested development, though in Neighbors, Rogen’s character, Max Radner, a married office drone and newly minted father and homeowner, has made his peace more or less with the demands and obligations of thirty-something adulthood in exchange for the relative stability of domesticity (i.e., dullness, monotony, tedium).When we first meet Max and his wife, Kelly (Rose Byrne), they’re attempting – and failing badly – to add some spontaneity to their moribund sex life. The presence of their infant daughter, Stella (Elise/Zoey Vargas), not only derails their sex life, but also their social life, adding to a general sense of frustration at the compromises inherent in married life. The arrival of a local fraternity to their neighborhood initially functions to remind them of their carefree, hedonistic college lives (up to and including a friendly get together involving copious amounts of weed and alcohol), but their peaceful détente doesn’t last for long. In fact, it lasts exactly one night. Once Max and Kelly bring in the town’s finest law enforcement representative, détente gives way to an all out war of attrition between the fraternity and the couple next door.
"Bros, dudes, and dude-bros represent."
Led by best friends and non-biological brothers Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco), president and vice-president respectively, the fraternity lives up to (or down to, depending on your perspective) to every single cliché about on- or off-campus Greek associations of college-aged men. They’re rude, crude, and vulgar. They’re openly offensive, unrestrained Ids, indulging in practically every pleasure involving sex, drugs, alcohol, and hard partying. Once the all-out war begins, Teddy and Pete match Max and Kelly prank for outrageous prank. Max and Kelly’s escalating pranks hide the surface-deep ambiguity in their actions: They want to repress what they can no longer enjoy themselves. Working from a screenplay written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien, Nicholas Stoller (The Five-Year Engagement, Get Him to the Greek, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) doesn’t linger on or explore that ambiguity or duality, but it’s there to add some thematic heft for anyone inclined to look beyond the admittedly inventive R-rated shenanigans of the characters.
Where Hollywood is concerned, a comedy isn’t a comedy – even an R-rated frat comedy like Neighbors – unless the central characters undergo some kind of significant, redemptive change. It’s obvious Max and Kelly’s personal and collective journey will end with a re-acknowledgement of the superior value of being (and acting like) an adult while Teddy, for all his live-today, think-about-tomorrow-tomorrow outlook, will get the semi-rude awakening necessary to push him along the path toward bourgeois enlightenment. On that score, Neighbors doesn’t disappoint, but the respective characters for Max, Kelly, and Teddy never feel earned (because they aren’t). Without those arcs, though, Neighbors wouldn’t feel like a complete film, at least not for the average moviegoer subconsciously accustomed to the emotional comforts of three-act structure.To Stoller’s credit – and before we forget, to Cohen and O’Brien's credit too –, the first and second acts, free of the constricting, constrictive needs of three-act structure, deliver more than their fair share of verbal humor and physical gags (more of the latter than the former), often at an unrelenting pace. And while Rogen gives a performance indistinguishable from every other performance he’s given over the last eight years, Rose Byrne – using her native Australian accent, no less – easily delivers the most memorable performance of her career (comedy or drama) while Efron, long denigrated – justifiably, it should be added – for his expressive limitations as a dramatic actor, proves himself a remarkably adept comic actor. Maybe like Rogen before him, Efron has found his level (and it’s not in drama).
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originally posted: 05/09/14 18:27:34