Here’s a shocker: Old School, that funny frat comedy starring Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn, a frat comedy that proudly stands alongside Animal House as a genre best, is already 11 years old.
Eleven … years … old.
So, yes, the world is plenty ripe for a new, high quality frat comedy, and it gets a good, and often great, entry with the new Seth Rogen offering, Neighbors.
Mac and Kelly (Rogen and Rose Byrne), are happily adjusting to their new roles as parents to a baby daughter in a quiet suburban neighborhood. While in the midst of adjusting to their new sleep and sex schedules, a fraternity moves in next door.
They don’t panic, figuring they are still cool enough to get along with college kids. An initial meeting with frat president Teddy (Zac Efron) goes well, and they even wind up joining the fray, baby monitor in hand, for a drugged-out, booze-drenched party, further establishing them as those possibly cool neighbors who just might be able to handle a party house next door.
Mac and Teddy develop a brotherly camaraderie, suggesting that if Mac were just a few years younger, he might’ve been a worthy frat brother. They even talk about getting walkie-talkies to communicate between their houses. They bond.
The honeymoon doesn’t last for long. When a weeknight party keeps the baby up, Mac and Kelly transform from party happy neighbors into sleep-deprived malcontents, and they call the cops. Teddy takes this as a stab in the back from his new friends, and all out war is waged. There will be no walkie-talkies for Mac and Teddy.
I doubt moviegoers will have much difficulty with the thin plot. The movie concentrates on delivering rapid-fire jokes, and most of them hit the mark, often with shockingly raunchy results. Nobody goes to a movie like this yearning for gravitas. They just want to see what happens when a toddler puts a discarded condom in her mouth. (It’s a jaw dropping punch line, for sure.
Efron, who took a shot at broad comedy earlier this year with the awful That Awkward Moment after a string of dramatic misfires, creates a hilariously odd person in Teddy. Teddy has issues underneath his Abercrombie model physique. Teddy is an extreme example of frat boy earnestness, that sometimes tragic need to be accepted that places partying as the number one priority over cracking a book. When Mac turns on him, Teddy goes into annihilation mode, but you can see the hurt of being rejected behind his beautiful eyes.
Coming out of nowhere with amazing comic chops would be Byrne, who earns some of the film’s biggest laughs (an uncomfortable joke involving breast feeding not withstanding). Wisely, director Nicholas Stoller finds a way to allow Byrne to use her Australian accent—she was an exchange student who met Mac at college—and she gives a commanding performance.
From her inability to deliver the words “Keep it down!” in a cool way, to her scheming “Hos before Bros” technique used to take down the fraternity, Byrne brings some atomic estrogen to this bro-fest.
Neighbors isn’t your typical “neighbor” comedy, like Dennis the Menace, where the neighbors are far apart in age and sensibilities. The thing that makes Neighbors unique is that Mac and Kelly are almost envious of the fun going on in the loud house next door. It’s the sort of mayhem they were into just a few years ago. Meanwhile, Teddy seems perhaps slightly aware that he’s just a few years removed from being the annoyed guy next to loud neighbors. It makes for a very strange dynamic.
While that strange dynamic might fuel the emotional tensions in the movie, Neighbors is really all about moments like Mac unsuspectingly deploying an airbag rigged into his office chair and funny dildo jokes.
Hey, it’s hard to make a funny dildo joke these days. They’ve been done to death. Neighbors is one of those movies that makes done-to-death jokes funny again.