When the cast of “Neighbors” hit Austin for SXSW, they left a trail of laughter (and screaming fan girls) in their wake. From goofy Q&As, meet and greets and even a brief break to film a special hazing video for Funny or Die, it was clear that these guys were not only hilarious, but that they were genuinely having fun with each other. They behaved like you would expect a brotherhood or a fraternity to act. Of course the big question is if their charisma and brotherly chemistry could translate to the silver screen in the new comedy, “Neighbors.” The short answer: duh! With a cast like Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Dave Franco, it’s hard to pull off anything less than comedy gold.
“Neighbors” is about a young couple adjusting to life as new parents, while struggling to hang on to their youth and “hipness.” Going out for a night of dancing isn’t easy when you’re running on 2 hours of sleep and can’t find a sitter, but I applaud this couple for trying. They make some questionable decisions like dressing their baby up for a night at the club, which is sure to make more experienced parents gasp, but the joke resolves in a funny, sleepy punchline. So while things are hard enough for Mac Radner (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne), they’re about to get trickier. When new neighbors move in and they discover them to be a fraternity from the local college, this couple is pushed to the limits of their sanity as they struggle to fit in with these young guys, while still managing the intense demands of parenthood.
At first, they try the friendly approach to ask their neighbors to be quiet when they have parties, but when that doesn’t work, they strike back. The Radners and the fraternity — led by Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco) — start small pranking each other back and forth. The fraternity exercises some caution because they don’t want to get in legal trouble that would put them in probation and the Radners can’t afford a move, so they hope to get the frat kicked out when the “cool adults” approach doesn’t work. The pranks escalate quickly, and with them, so do the laughs. The prank war culminates in a final eventful party that involves cops, pot and smoke in a moment reminiscent of something out of “Pineapple Express” mixed with “21 Jump Street.” And if you’re a fan of either of those films, you’re sure to love “Neighbors.” Sure there are some jokes that push things a little too far, and yes, there is a lot of low brow humor in this, but it’s still hilarious. I dare you not to laugh when a bunch of guys are standing around repeating “dicks in our hands” like it’s the biggest epiphany since Jesus’ resurrection.
Neighbors features a lot of the actors doing what they do best. Seth Rogen does the “mature” stoner, Christopher Mintz-Plasse brings out some great sexual humor and Zac Efron plays the hot guy. But lest you think Zac Efron is nothing more than some nice biceps and perfect hair, he is a great actor in this, adding some nice sadness to his character when the moment calls for it. He is also a strong counterpoint to Rogen’s character and the two are a nice comedy balance.
Dave Franco is quickly becoming one of my favorite comedic actors and a lot of the humor in “Neighbors” is similar to Franco’s other recent comedy, the aforementioned “21 Jump Street.” In one scene, the fraternity is preparing for a Robert DeNiro-themed party and when Franco asks are you “talking to me” punch line, he pulls off an impression better than half of the ones seen on SNL in the past year. He also manages to bring some gravitas to what could have easily been a one note character. While Rogen’s character is supposed to be the heart of the movie and the foil for Zac Efron’s frat leader, Franco’s character helps set up another interesting contrast for Teddy. We see that Franco’s character has gone through a growth arc of his own and has a genuine future, while Teddy’s character is stuck thinking college is the high of his life.
During their SXSW Q&A, the cast of “Neighbors” revealed only one guy in the production had even been in a real fraternity (one of the disadvantages of working with a bunch of child stars). Yet, despite the lack of real world experience, the film does a great job capturing the feeling of fraternity life, largely in part to the natural brotherhood of its stars. This is a team that I hope to see making many more comedies together in the future because they all play off each other so well. Full disclosure, the film version screened at SXSW was also slightly incomplete, lacking credits and unfinished sound mixing, but that didn’t take away from the movie. It was still a hilariously good time. Whether you’re young and identify more with the frat or you’re older and more easily relate to Radners, Neighbors has something for everyone. So take your friends, your family or your neighbors because “Neighbors” is a hilariously good time.