Following the civil unrest sparked by my last blog post on the superiority of independent cinema – branded by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly as “more elitist than a Master’s Degree in International Empathy…the kind of decadent open-mindedness that leaves no doubt the terrorists have won…” – I submit for your approval an unarguably populist choice of film: Neighbors.
Whenever I ponder Comedy as a film genre, I am invariably transported back to that section in the video store that my grandparents took me to as a child (my actual hometown still not economically viable enough to support a video store). I love comedy in all its forms and as a youth I always gravitated towards it onscreen no matter how many times it let me down. Good film comedies, really good ones, are hard to come by. When I think back to that particular Comedy aisle, the titles that immediately come to mind, side-by-side but generally representing the mean of the entire selection, are 1993’s Cop and a Half starring Burt Reynolds and 1994’s Cops and Robbersons starring Chevy Chase and Jack Palance. Jack freaking Palance. Everything you need to know about the latter is communicated by the cover photo featuring a smirking Chase holding his hand mock gun-style while Palance grimaces in the background, firmly grasping a genuine stainless .45 auto that he no doubt used on his agent immediately after the photo shoot.
This is what Comedies too often tend to be: lazy, lowest-common-denominator grave sites for actors in search of a paycheck. Oh, sure, there was the false hope of the Judd Apatow era in the early Aughts. But as we all know, its initial promise fermented into the Man-Child sub genre with its minimum BPM (‘bros-per-minute) quota. “Believe it or not, kids, there was a time when ‘coming-of-age’ films were limited to the teen years.” “No way, grandpa!”
In short and not to damn with faint praise, when a Comedy comes along that doesn’t waste your time or force pity laughs as though the cast was sitting on the couch next to you, it’s time to rejoice. And I’m happy to report that Neighbors is such a film.
Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) Radner are new parents who haven’t fully bid goodbye to their old, free-wheeling childless ways. Just as they’re settling into a new reality of sleepless nights in suburbia, the house next door is purchased by – can that really happen? – a fraternity. Torn between the desire to be cool and the need to preserve what little peace they currently enjoy, they cautiously approach the president of the fraternity, Teddy (Zak Efron), to establish some ground rules. Teddy turns out to be a reasonable guy and in fact invites the couple to an upcoming party, asking them to come directly to him if they ever have a problem. Not everyone gets the memo, however, and one night soon afterwards another party rages but the Radners are unable to reach Teddy. In desperation they place an anonymous call to the police to shut the party down. It’s their bad luck that the responding officer is the least-discrete person ever (a typically underused Hannibal Buress). Upon learning of their treachery, Teddy vows revenge and a series of ever more extreme pranks ensues.
Your ultimate enjoyment of the movie will likely hinge on where you fall on the subject of Seth Rogen; personally, I’m still laughing at the guy despite the fact that he’s essentially repeated the same shtick since Day One. But it’s a funny, natural, loose shtick that just works. And he’s just one of an incredibly strong cast, many of whom are not necessarily associated with comedies. Zak Efron’s Golden Boy persona is put to great use here as his perfect facade hides a truly unhinged personality that gets funnier the farther it’s pushed. And Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids, Spy) is fast becoming one of Comedy’s secret weapons as a spot-on straight person. She delivers the movie’s funniest line after she and Rogen practice their introductory conversation with Teddy. Standouts also include Buress, the hilarious Ike Barenholtz of Mad TV and The Mindy Project, Apatow regular Carla Gallo and Dave One-Day-James-Will-Be-Known-As-My-Brother Franco. I have to leave out Christopher Mintz-Plasse, though, as his character is the movie’s only real misstep and factors into an image from the film I still can’t get out of my head.