Every 10 years, Hollywood produces a great frat house comedy. In 1984, we got Revenge of the Nerds. In 1994, we got PCU. In 2003, we got Old School. And now, in 2014, we have Neighbors.
Each of these films defines their era. Revenge of the Nerds premiered as the personal computer was ascendant and the digital age was getting underway. PCU is a reflection of the great Political Correctness Wars of the early 1990s. Old School was set in a post-9/11 America desperate for a return to the tranquility of previous years, showcasing its protagonists’ retreat from the responsibilities of adulthood to a simpler, less confusing, state of being.
So what does Neighbors tell us about America in 2014? It reflects a growing anxiety about the shifting expectations of upper-middle class Americans, tackling not only the tension between the desire to "have it all" and the need to settle down and have a family, but also the worry that many college graduates are heading out into the world burdened by debt, with little preparedness for working life, and no real job prospects. Thanks, Obama.
This is all secondary to the fact that Neighbors is a remarkably funny film stocked with standout performances, the sort of picture that will have audiences falling out of their seats and howling with laughter.
Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are new parents with a new home, a nice single-family paean to suburbia. A bit bored with their newfound calm, they quickly realize how good they had it when a fraternity moves in next door. This isn’t just any fraternity: It’s a frat that burned down its previous abode with a cache of illegal fireworks, and whose president Teddy (Zac Efron) is desperate to make the house’s wall of legends.
At first it seems as if Mac and Kelly, a decade or so out of school, will have it all. There’s a constant party next door so they won’t need to get a sitter, but the bros are cool and promise to keep it down so as not to wake up the couple’s adorable infant Stella. After a fun-filled evening with Teddy, Pete (Dave Franco), Scoonie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and the rest of the crew, Mac and Kelly promise to call Teddy about noise issues before going to the cops.
It is a promise they break on night two. As with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, there is no turning back. This means war.
What follows is an episodic but entertaining series of conflicts between the grown-ups with the baby and the man-children they hope to evict. As with many films these days, the advertising campaign has, unfortunately, given away many of the film’s best gags. But there’s still much to love here, and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.
I’d like to highlight two performances for special praise. Rose Byrne, sporting her natural Australian accent, delights as Kelly. Between this and Bridesmaids, she has shown that she’s as funny as any actress working today. I’d love to see her get more work in this sort of flick.
Zac Efron, meanwhile, continues to be one of the most underrated young actors out there. He has solid comedic timing and no shortage of star power. It’s a shame, and rather odd, that Hollywood hasn’t quite figured out how to capitalize on his charms.