Neighbors is one really, really funny movie. Like, blow-soda-out-your-nose funny. In fact, as a pure comedy, it's the most hilarious movie I've seen all year, and if it were that alone, I'd say it's a must-see. However, Neighbors is more than just that. Like Seth Rogen's own This Is the End last year, Neighbors is, fundamentally, a film about accepting responsibility, in this case that which comes with growing up. While it's thin on actual story between the gags, the story it does tell only makes the jokes hit that much harder and push this film over the top from a comedy that's merely really good into a downright great one. This isn't the sort of movie that anyone under the age of 22 is really going to appreciate on more than a purely visceral level, though that's not to say that there aren't enough yuks, mucks, and blunts to go around and have them laughing their asses off anyway. It's basically a more trimmed-down, less self-indulgent version of This is 40, a movie very much made for people of a certain age (in this case, aging millennials rather than aging Gen-Xers) for whom both the jokes and the broader themes will resonate that much more.
All of the main characters here -- Rogen and Rose Byrne's happily married young parents Mac and Kelly, and Zac Efron's fraternity president Teddy -- are people in quarter-life crises, desperately wanting to keep living in their youth for all time but staring down the unflinching ticking of the clock of life. Mac and Kelly hate their new neighbors' constant parties keeping them up at night, and fear what having a rowdy frat house next door will do to the value of the home they've invested their life savings into, to say nothing of how their young daughter Stella will turn out growing up next door to a mob of frat boys. On the other hand, they used to be the sort of people who would've loved to party with Teddy and his bros, and they still love the idea of living that lifestyle, but now, they're living with the reality of raising a family, and can no longer keep going out to the club with their carefree friends Jimmy and Paula. As much as they don't want to admit it, they've become the grumpy grown-ups looking down on the "kids these days". Teddy, on the other hand, knows deep down that his poor academic performance, a consequence of his party-hard lifestyle, means that he doesn't have much of a future after graduation, and so he seeks to burn his name into Delta Psi's history books with a bad boy reputation.
The result is a clash of two sides that are neither entirely wholesome nor purely evil. Mac and Kelly, the ostensible heroes, match Delta Psi beat-for-beat in crazy stunts that turn very dark quite rapidly, especially once the point of it switches from revenge to just pulling wacky pranks in order to feel like carefree twentysomethings again. Meanwhile, Delta Psi genuinely believes in the bonds between brothers, as ridiculous as it may be once they've all graduated. In their escalating war, neither side comes out looking good or bad, all of it ultimately amounting to just senseless bickering by people having trouble adjusting to the fact that they're either adults now or well on their way to becoming such.
But don't think for a second that this film is just a joyless exploration of how growing up sucks, oh no. It's also the funniest damn movie I've seen since The Wolf of Wall Street. Whether it's slapstick (like the airbag gags in the trailers), sex jokes, observational humor, generation-gap jokes, Seth Rogen shirtless, or a digression on synonyms for "bros before hoes" in which neither party quite knows what he's talking about, rarely a moment goes by when this film isn't coming up with a new joke, and I'd say that about 90% of them hit the bullseye here. Rogen's pretty much playing a grown-up version of his "nebbish stoner" persona, one who, as mentioned, is now confronting life as a working father and isn't the least bit happy about it. It makes for great subtext: he would've been playing one of the frat boys had this been made just a few years ago. While it's hardly a stretch for him, he once more proves why he's one of the funniest guys in Hollywood today. Matching him is the inspired casting of former Disney star Zac Efron as what we imagine all Disney stars turn out to be in adulthood -- a drunken layabout questioning his life decisions, and finding that the answer is to have a good time now and damn the future (and oh, does he have a good time). Efron proves that he's more than just Troy from High School Musical, playing a character on the opposite end of the "good guy/douchebag" continuum who's a lot more layered than the frat boy stereotype he looks like at first glance. Last but certainly not least, the film has Rose Byrne as Kelly, who defiantly refuses to be "closer to Earth" than her man and in fact eggs him on to give the frat boys his worst. The "milking" scene alone (to give any details would both spoil a great gag and push this review straight into R-rated territory) was pure gold, a great display of both daring and comedy chops on Byrne's part.
Score: 5 out of 5
If I really tried, I could probably find things to nitpick about this, but the fact remains that it's easily the best comedy of 2014 thus far and a lot more intelligent than it lets up on. If you think it looks like yet another Seth Rogen weed-and-sex vehicle, think again. It's amazing.