Neighbors Movie Review – The role of fraternities in movies is a storied one and it has changed over the years as the social climate in America has evolved. In the seventies, frat boys were the heroes in films like Animal House. These were college kids blowing off steam and trying to get laid. What could be a more noble pursuit? By the eighties Revenge of the Nerds taught us that traditional frats were bullies and aggressors who deserved to be put in their place. The Stan Gables of the world became outstanding foils for the disenfranchised youth of America’s college scene. By the late nineties and into the 2000s fraternities were full blown laughing stocks in movies like Van Wilder. Elitist meatheads out to kill a good time rather than get theirs. Still, there’s a place for fraternities in movies. What place is that here in 2014? Neighbors aims to find out.
Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play Mac and Kelly, thirty-something parents to a newborn who’ve just recently procured their dream home only to have a rambunctious fraternity house headed by perennial man-child Terry Sanders(Zach Ephron) move in. Torn between a desire to appear young and “with it” and a need to get some sleep for themselves and their child, the couple find themselves in a constant on again off again war with Zaphron’s crew of party rock all stars.
It’s not hard to imagine this film as the bastard third installment in a trilogy with the Apatow gang’s Knocked Up and This is 40, only with Rose Byrne taking the place of Katherine Heigl, who seems to have spent most of her time in the last few years firebombing every bridge in sight. This is what kind of works least. After Rogen’s umpteenth telling of this bumbling, insecure stoner trying to hold on tenuously to his twenties while firmly entrenched in his thirties, the shtick has gotten a bit stale. And while it’s kind of fun in a train wreck sort of way to watch Byrne flex her comedic chops, this really is not her forte.
What saves this film is the frat. Ephron in particular seems to be enjoying a chance to throw off the good boy image some of his earlier roles have mapped out for him and delve into some of the more mature content provided here. He is still a good guy deep down inside, driven by unflinching loyalty, but he knows not how to process his disappointment when that loyalty is breeched, instead constantly escalating the stakes to impossible heights. We’re talking about dance offs and dildo fights here. The rest of the frat boys, from Dave Franco’s Pete to cast-way-against-type Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s Scoonie round out the hijinks well and it’s the overall frenetic pace of their exploits that drive the film.
It’s hard to know what to say about a film like this. It doesn’t aspire to be much, but what it does aspire to be it manages pretty well. It’s raunchy and witty and there’s just enough heart to make you care how everything turns out. It doesn’t rewrite the genre, but it belongs alongside of other recent substance heavy, physical comedy winners like the original Hangover. Ultimately, I think that if you’re watching a trailer for this and thinking, “I gotta see that!” you’re not going to be disappointed. And not being disappointing is half the battle or something like that.