Seth Rogen was recently quoted in an EW magazine article as saying that there have been only one and a half good movies ever made about frat life: Animal House and the first half of Old School. I’d throw 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds into the mix, but I get his point. Too few comedies have been able to capture the gonzo, bacchanalian spirit of the Greek system with some degree of wit. Well, now you can add Rogen’s raucously inspired Neighbors to the honor roll. It’s a frat-house flick with more on its mind than beer, bongs, and beer bongs. It’s also a razor-sharp commentary on desperately trying to remain carefree after the burdens of adulthood have taken over.
Directed by Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s Nicholas Stoller, Neighbors stars Rogen and Rose Byrne as Mac and Kelly Radner, a thirtysomething couple with a newborn daughter, a sensible station wagon, and a crushing mortgage on a house littered with breast pumps and baby monitors. What they don’t have is any of the spontaneity of their 20s. Exhibit A: As the film opens, Rogen and Byrne are getting hot and heavy in the bedroom, only to realize that their baby is watching Daddy tell Mommy he’s about to take her to ”Bonertown.” Plans to go out clubbing with their less exhausted single friends go just about as well. Then one morning moving trucks show up next door and unload a sea of whooping, Solo-cup-clutching frat boys. Led by the chiseled, vacant alpha dog Teddy (Zac Efron) and his Abercrombie wingman Pete (Dave Franco), the guys of Delta Psi Beta proceed to turn Mac and Kelly’s quiet, tree-lined slice of suburban heaven into a hedonistic hell.
At first, Mac and Kelly see their new neighbors as an opportunity to prove that they’re more than just the sum of their Pack ‘n Plays, that they’re still down to party and reclaim their laid-back youth. The couple obliviously try to cozy up with Teddy and Pete, but every time they hope to show how cool they are, it becomes more and more clear that they’re just the annoying old buzzkills next door. And when the raging gets a bit too epic and the meatheads refuse to keep it down, it’s war. The two sides launch into a hilarious volley of tit-for-tat pranks that gradually escalates into a gross-out gag Armageddon with obscene topiaries and gargantuan dildos as the weapons of battle.
One of the best surprises in Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien’s script is its refusal to succumb to lazy sitcom stereotypes, which would set Rogen up as the oafish Kevin James man-child and Byrne as the nag. Instead, Kelly is as foul-mouthed, shallow, and irresponsible as her husband. Speaking in her native Aussie twang, Byrne shows that she’s a deadpan comic ace. And thanks to her chemistry with Rogen, Neighbors proves that just because you grow up doesn’t mean you have to be a grown-up. You can still be wild and crazy even as you’re yelling at the kids next door to get the hell off your lawn. B+