The premise of “Neighbors” seems recycled and trite: a happily married couple with a child have their lives turned upside down upon the arrival of new nightmarish residents next door. But what Nicholas Stoller’s movie lacks in plot, it makes up for in moments of both genuine humor and sentimentality.
Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are a young couple who are suddenly thrown into adulthood — they have poured their life savings into buying a house in a good neighborhood for the infant they are raising together. As their divorced friend (Ike Barinholtz) ironically points out, they have become the old ones of their friend group. This newly established status quo is quickly disturbed when a fraternity moves next door.
As is expected, the fraternity throws a party later that night, and when the couple goes to ask them to quiet down, they are invited to the party. Mac and Teddy (Zac Efron) bond that night through their consumption of alcohol and recreational drugs and cross-generational renditions of Batman, creating an imaginative juxtaposition between the two, who are separated by a difference in age but touchingly brought together by through shrooms, vodka and weed.
The next night, Teddy, the fraternity president, and his brothers throw another obnoxious party, and after several failed attempts to get them to quiet down, Mac and Kelly finally decide to call the police. Thus begins the war between family and frat, with all the antics expected from a Seth Rogen comedy: copious amounts of smoking weed, graphic and often penis-related humor, a flurry of pop culture jokes and several references to his Jewish background.
Stoller creates a realistic depiction of Mac and Kelly’s struggles to adjust from their former lifestyle of partying to becoming responsible parents by making the two of them defy the respective stereotypes of man-child and nagging mother. Kelly is shown to be just as potty-mouthed and immature as Mac, which helps highlight Byrne’s on-screen chemistry with Rogen throughout the film.
The couple is easy to sympathize with, as they have much more at stake during this war than the fraternity does. At certain points, it seems like even the fraternity brothers are unsure whether or not the pranks are going too far. Pete (Dave Franco), Teddy’s best friend, acts as the fraternity’s voice of reason. Franco’s ability to portray Pete as a three-dimensional character whose thoughts and actions are affected by his parents’ recent divorce shows the versatility and the skill that he possesses as an actor.
Efron also goes beyond his muscular boy-toy archetype (as Rogen accurately described in the movie, “his arms are like two giant, veiny dicks”). When Teddy comes to the realization that being fraternity president will probably be the highlight of his life and that he doesn’t really know what he’ll be doing once he graduates, Efron has a moment of especially relatable existential dread and effectively develops his character into more than just a frat boy with no worries.
“Neighbors” is raunchy, low-brow and, at some points, just plain disgusting, but through all of the distasteful physical humor, Stoller creates a fast-paced comedy that has consistently entertaining dialogue. He leaves the audience with the message that growing up is a messy process, but if Seth Rogen can do it, so can you — even if that involves a dildo fight or two.