Sunday, June 15, 2014

“Neighbors” Proves Sometimes Good Fences Aren't Enough

When we grow up, we are supposed to put away childish things. But sometimes the process is a bit slow-going. In “Neighbors,” it's going slowly but surely for one couple until a reverse catalyst threatens to turn back the clock.

Said couple is Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) who live in a house in the 'burbs, complete with a relatively new, impossibly cute baby. They're old enough to be stable and comfortable, yet still young enough to long for the days of irresponsibility and freedom of their younger (college) years. Naturally, they also still harbor delusions of “coolness.” Personally, I'm fairly certain that if any residual trace of cool does manage to survive, a secret coalition of parents drugs you, abducts you, then surgically removes it.

Their delusions are quickly shattered when a fraternity moves into the house next door, and Mac and Kelly quickly discover how wide the gulf between them and their college years really is.

But such cherished dreams never die an easy death. At first the frat, let by a slightly crazed Zac Efron and his best friend and second-in-command Dave Franco, are welcoming and accommodating, since they sense, very rightly, that their fortunes depend on good PR in the neighborhood. So they first get along well, and even invite the couple to one of their parties.

But adult and family life takes its toll, and Mac and Kelly call the police during another party. So Efron and the frat brothers declare war, and what starts as mild, entertaining hijinks soon escalates into hugely entertaining hijinks with real stakes.

Neither family nor frat is completely without fault or merit. Except of course, for baby Stella. Did I mention she was cute? Seriously, she's the most photogenic baby I've ever seen. She is the heart of the story, the major reason Mac and Kelly go so far (Efron reminds them when he leaves, other frat brothers will take his place as Stella grows up), as well as why some of the frat brothers question if they are. And you know when they coo and grin about how adorable she is when they first meet her that these guys are gonna have a few good qualities. That alone requires serious skill, seeing how frat boys are some of the easiest go to villains onscreen and off. But “Neighbors” actually makes it work.

Byrne and Rogen may long for the past and relief from the boredom of suburban life, but the impossibly abtastic Efron has his own angst. He's about to graduate, has a very unimpressive GPA and resume in general due to his devotion to fraternity and the requisite partying rather than studying. To him, revenge is a great way to channel his anxiety about the future, especially since more than a few of his friends are already placing their feet in Mac and Kelly's footprints. And if there's anyone still hesitant about letting go of Efron's Disney past, “Neighbors” not only puts it to rest, it buries it and adds a headstone. But who knew it would be this funny to see? (Or who knew he was this funny?)

But while “Neighbors” is a little heavy-handed in the way it comes down firmly on the side of family values, the approach isn't all that friendly to it. While the jokes and gags are crude, they're mostly still smart, or at least no less funny. Of course, it helps that the movie has great writing and a fun cast to bring out the best in it. Just leave the family at home.

Grade: B+

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