New parents take on frat boys in “Neighbors,” the latest dirty R-rated comedy from director Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Get Him to the Greek”) and produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s Point Grey Pictures. Yet what separates “Neighbors” from the heap has a lot to do with the script, written by novices Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien. Their unusual yet familiar concept results in a comedy accessible to both college guys and to 30-some-year-olds with babies along with everyone in between.
Yes, you do need to move beyond the preposterous notion that a neighborhood would ever be zoned to allow fraternity houses to move in in order to enjoy this movie, but the comic treasure chest this premise opens is well worth it. Rogen and Rose Byrne (“Bridesmaids,” “Get Him to the Greek”) star as young parents Mac and Kelly Radner, who are adjusting to being homeowners and caring for human life, even if it requires having sex in random rooms of the house just to feel young and adventurous again. Of course when the Delta Psi fraternity moves in next door, the Radners feel their quiet adult life being threatened, while also not wanting to be the unhip couple that calls the cops when the noise gets too loud.
After awkwardly befriending Delta Psi leaders Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco), the Radners betray the boys’ trust when they call the cops, and a war is waged with the fraternity making the their lives miserable and the couple scheming of ways to get the fraternity kicked off campus.
Naturally, these 30-somethings find themselves in situations they are way too old for, and anyone who’s ever had a moment in which they feel like they can’t party as hard as they used to will relate. Rogen and Byrne are hysterical together and their relationship is the backbone of the movie.
Also, anyone in a fraternity or who has ever been in one will appreciate the way “Neighbors” exaggerates fraternity life, as there are some moments that show the brothers’ bond and sensitivity. Of course the portrayal still perpetuates fraternity stereotypes, but we’ve at least moved beyond “Revenge of the Nerds” or National Lampoon depictions of all frat dudes being jocks. Efron and Franco are ideally suited to portray the “modern bro,” with Efron making a statement that the “High School Musical” days are far behind him.
What will surely go most under-appreciated about “Neighbors” is the unusual tail-end Gen X vs. Millennial clash going on. Mac and Teddy’s argument about who is Batman (for Mac, it’s Michael Keaton, for Teddy it’s Christian Bale) perfectly represents this divide in its most fundamental sense, as college kids today watched Christopher Nolan’s trilogy throughout their formative years whereas to someone in their 30s, the original Batman films in the late ’80s early ’90s were those movies. Either way, until now there hasn’t been a movie that pits such similar age groups against each other, with college guys striving to be legendary and nervous about their future and young adults clinging to whatever 20-year-old version of themselves they have left.
So on the surface, “Neighbors” looks like (and very much is) a war between college kids and new parents, but it’s actually an impressively spot-on depiction of generational struggles in 2014. The Macs and Kellys out there today don’t see themselves the way parents of babies have been depicted on screen for ages. They identify with this couple, striving to be youthful and spontaneous while recognizing their responsibilities. With this in mind, I would not be surprised if older adults did not like this film very much.
This truthful component of “Neighbors” won’t be what those who see it remember most (it earns its “R” rating to be sure), but it adds surprising depth to a rather funny comedy that without these layers would’ve been entertaining enough anyway. Still, the “realism” here is what makes “Neighbors” actually funny rather than just playing for laughs, and it earns the film consideration as one of the year’s best comedies.
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien
Starring: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, James Franco