Saturday, May 10, 2014

Neighbors review

NOTE: This review was originally posted on April 17, 2014 after I saw Neighbors at an advance screening.

Over the last few years, there hasn't been a more powerful comedic force in Hollywood than Seth Rogen. After starting his career with small roles in Judd Apatow productions like Anchorman and The 40 Year Old Virgin, Rogen eventually became a star in his own right, headlining films like Pineapple Express and The Green Hornet while also writing Superbad and directing This is the End with partner Evan Goldberg. Over the years, Rogen and friends Jonah Hill, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, and writer Nicholas Stoller have expanded their horizons a bit. They're tackled animated comedies, The Muppets and Hill has even picked up some Oscar nominations along the way. However, Rogen's latest film, Neighbors (out on May 9), definitely takes them back to R-rated territory. Directed by Nicholas Stoller, Neighbors plays as both a raunchy modern version of Animal House and a war movie where a suburban family and a fraternity do their best to destroy each other. With stellar performances from Zac Efron, Rose Byrne and Dave Franco, Neighbors is undoubtedly one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. It's hilarious from beginning to end and one of the best comedies in recent years.

Neighbors focuses on Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Rose Byrne), a nice suburban family who are trying to adjust to life with their new baby. They miss their old days of partying, but they seem content at the same time. However, when a fraternity moves in next door, Mac and Kelly see an opportunity to prove their coolness to the frat. They go over and introduce themselves to Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco) and end up partying with them all night long. The party ends and the couple goes home, but then Teddy and Pete throw another giant party the next night. Mac ends up calling the cops and a war between the fraternity and Mac's family begins. Madness, drinking, partying and mass chaos ensues.

Neighbors is very much a Seth Rogen comedy. It's raunchy, there's a lot of marijuana use and the profanity is extremely consistent. However, Rogen and director Nicholas Stoller definitely stepped up their game here delivering a movie that feels out of control, yet meticulously mapped out at the same time. Just like the frat classic Animal House, Neighbors is a bit too messy and mostly plays out as a series of parties and pranks. But you can tell that Rogen didn't want to just do that. As many critics have already said, there are some really interesting themes in here about moving on past your young life and so on. However, you'll probably miss some of those underlying themes just from laughing so hard. By far, the best part about this movie is that it's funny and that's really all that matters. The characters and story are extremely interesting and funny and Rogen and Stoller do everything they can to make you laugh out loud at every scene. Neighbors is an absolute blast.

Comedy never works if the performers aren't up to the task. In Neighbors, all of the actors play an integral part in making this film so hilarious. Rogen is good as usual, but he definitely has moments of pure genius. Rose Byrne is really funny as well and does a great job of playing a character who is really evil at times. Efron was the stand out for me. He fits in really well with this style of comedy and is a great fit for the part. The supporting cast is also unusually strong. Dave Franco does a pretty good job, but I don't remember a ton of funny moments with him. Ike Barinholtz does a great job as Mac and Kelly's friend Jimmy. His character has some great moments.

The plot is pretty thin in terms of story, but the characters do change over the course of the film. All of these characters grow up a little bit because of what they do in this film. Plot-wise, this film is essentially a war movie between a group of immature fraternity brothers and a group of immature adults. However, just like Animal House, an elaborate plot isn't really integral to the film. Neighbors contains a bunch of small subplots that take place during this "war" that the film depicts. All of the subplots are either interesting or absolutely hilarious and they make the film better.

The script for Neighbors was written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien. Neither one has ever written a script before. Heck, Cohen and O'Brien's most prominent credit is that they were co-producers on Funny People and assistant producers on The 40 Year Old Virgin. That's very little experience, but they kill it with this script. You can definitely feel Rogen and Stoller's touch on the script, but credit is due to Cohen and O'Brien as well. The characters are well-developed and their motivations are clear. But most importantly, this script never ceases to amaze with more and more outrageous jokes and features so much non-stop hilarity, that you'll probably be tired by the end of this movie.

Nicholas Stoller directed Forgetting Sarah Marshll, Get Him To The Greek and The Five Year Engagement before directing Neighbors. He also wrote the fantastic reboot The Muppets and its awful sequel Muppets Most Wanted. All in all, Stoller has had a mixed track record critically, but the energy his direction brings to this film is amazing. This film never slows down and Stoller has crafted some of the most elaborately outlandish and hilariously insane party sequences ever. This film almost never stops and Stoller captures everything so well.

When it comes to comedies, the thing that I consider to be most important is how much I laughed. I practically couldn't stop laughing in Neighbors. There are so many funny jokes sprinkled throughout this movie and the manic energy makes it all the more enjoyable. I seriously think that this is one of the funniest movies that I've ever seen. Whether it was Rogen and Efron dance fighting or the absolutely insane party at the end or the airbag scenes, this movie was making me laugh.

Neighbors is exactly what you'd expect from Rogen and his team: vulgar, crude and insanely funny. Do Stoller and Rogen take a couple jokes too far every once in a while? Definitely. Is the story a little weak at times and does the movie have a few scenes that just don't quite fit? Yes, also. However, none of that will matter to you when you're watching this movie and laughing your butt off. It's pure comic insanity from beginning to end and a great start to what is sure to be one of the best summers for R-rated comedies in recent memory.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                                  (9/10)

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