Directed by Nicholas Stoller, Starring Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, and Rose Byrne
It is very difficult to talk about straight comedies. There is not too much to say. Each individual will either think that it is funny or not. That is the determining factor, and it is an opinion that cannot be supported by objective facts. It’s just not in my taste. I suppose that I could establish credibility by saying that I like most other Seth Rogan comedies, especially “Superbad” and “This is the End”, so the problem isn’t that I hate his style of humor. This round of gags just felt lazier than some of his others, and the complete lack of a likable character makes “Neighbors” harder to enjoy watching than many of his earlier works.
I will start with the moral standings, because that is a topic that can be discussed in depth. The movie is obviously framed in such a way that I am supposed to be rooting for Rogen and his wife Rose Byrne over the frat house, led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco. I don’t. The frat boys are superior in every way. They have more interesting characters in the sense that they have a character (Efron is the only person to go through a character arc, and Franco grows a little bit by the end of the film as well, while Rogen plays Rogen and Byrne is basically a female form of Rogen), they get most of the funniest parts, Franco gives the best performance in the movie, and they are less obnoxious. The frat boys might not be better people, but they are people that I would rather be around, and they seem more sympathetic. Rogen and Efron are mirror images of each other, except for the fact that one is older. The defining factor for me was comparing how much Efron grew with how little Rogen grew. By the third act, Efron realizes that being stupid and ignoring responsibilities can have negative consequences, and he takes steps towards changing to get his life back on track. Rogen is equally dumb and immature, and arguably worse because the responsibility that he ignores (raising a child) is far worse than the responsibilities ignored by Efron (getting an education). If Rogen achieves what he wants, he gets away with being an awful parent. It doesn’t help his case that
That’s not to say that the film is completely unfunny, but the jokes are spread thin. “Neighbors” is a narrative film, but it does have a skit-like approach to comedy. Most of the funny moments come from various two minute breaks in the plot, where the frat boys will do something dumb that is unrelated to the rest of the movie. A few of these are great, specifically the Robert DeNiro costume party that the fraternity has and Efron’s interactions at a job fair. The party scenes in the middle and end are also very strong. They have enough heart for Efron to grow, give Rose Byrne her only funny moments, and move the plot forward. At the same time, a lot of the more sexual comedy falls flat. The only joke that bothered me with how long and unfunny it was would be Rogen “milking” Rose Byrne, which was gross and never got a laugh from me, but every single time that the writing crew tries to go for the well of sex jokes, they come up short for me.
“Neighbors” is fine technically, more than it had to be. The party scenes are very nice visually. The editing is sharp and the colors are strikingly bright. There is a little CGI used during an air bag gag, and it is very bad, but it does not distract from the movie in any way. The cinematography is basic, but at least it is varied. Stoller understands how to pace a comedy very well, which is important in this case. The film is on the slow side, but at 90 minutes it never wears out its welcome or gets boring. Too many comedies in recent years have forgotten how to limit their running times, stretching to nearly two hours to fit in more subplots, or they move the scenes along too quickly. Few scenes in “Neighbors” are too short, and none are far too long. Let me stress that “Neighbors” is not a bad movie. It’s just one that didn’t appeal to my sense of comedy as much as I wanted it to. If you’re interested, it is worth watching before the sequel, just as long as you’re not spending too much money on it.