By Will Ashton | email@example.com| @thewillofash
Neighbors | Directed by Nicholas Stoller | Rated R
During the past two years, it appears that Seth Rogen has finally defined his formula.
Whether it is as a star, producer, writer or director—or all of the above—he has been developing a strong sense of his comedic presence and of his own sense of rhythm and timing.
But, most importantly, he has finally figured out that he needs to be seen in the R-rated raunchy format. After some false starts staring in The Green Hornet (which he also co-wrote and executive produced) and The Guilt Trip (again, he was an executive producer, so he deserves at least some of the blame), it was apparent that he is a likable lead, but that he needed the freedom only the R-rating can give him, should he make the most of his time on the screen.
What makes this so commendable is that, where so many stars try too hard to make push their R-rating rather than actually make good jokes—I’m looking at you, Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler—Rogen has actually improved in many ways. Last year’s This is the End, which he co-directed, proved to be one of the tightest, leanest and surprisingly, delightfully dark big-budget comedies in some time.
While not quite as good as that film, he continues this tradition with his latest film Neighbors.
Centered on a clash formed between a stereotypical frat and a newly formed family, Rogen, who produces, continues his usual stick, perhaps to a fault. But the real surprise, and secret to this movie’s success, is found in Zac Efron, who plays the frat’s leader Teddy.
This is the type of movie that Efron needed. Although, to his credit, he tried it earlier this year with That Awkward Moment, this is the movie that truly gets him away from any Disney association he possibly had left and, finally, away from the lead in insipid romantic dramas. In addition to being extreme charismatic, he proves that he does have some chops in comedy beyond his good looks.
I doubt he has enough to make it completely on his own. But in an ensemble comedy like this with some strong writing by Andrew J. Cohen and Brandan O’Brien, he makes the most of his talent.
In fact, the biggest problem that this movie faces, in terms of his character, is that its attempts to make him a more fleshed-out character often feel like an afterthought. I have a hard time believing that I am criticizing a movie for giving character development, but when it is as rudimentary and ineffective as it is here, I have to say something.
Not only do these moments slow down a film that is actually quite well paced throughout, but it never fully feels like these motivations are completely figured out. Instead, it feels like the work of re-writes, potentially from other ghostwriters, that didn’t fully make their way into the final product. It is possible that some of this was just lost in the editing room too, so maybe I shouldn’t just blame the script.
Efron’s character is not alone, though. There are several moments in this script where characters act a certain way just because the script tells them to. These moments never feel authentic, and often pull back on the film’s effectiveness. Although these are mostly found in Efron’s character, it is often seen in Rose Byrne’s too, who plays Rogen’s wife. Although, the screenwriters are so wisely meta about her character, getting some good comedic mileage out of select stereotypes of female characters in raunchy comedies.
Although the writing throughout is quite good, these problems weaken the elements of the film that are quite good, including Nicholas Stoller’s competent direction and its surprisingly good physical comedy timing. There are more than a few bits that just don’t work—whether they are just not fully formed, or too immature or just plain stupid—and most of these come in the movie’s first 10 or 20 minutes.
I must admit: the beginning of this movie is a bit of a slog before the good stuff comes around, and that is when Efron and Rogen get time to shine together with their surprisingly decent chemistry. Whether it is sex jokes that aren’t that funny, or set ups that don’t really pay off, or their attempts at awkward humor that are too heavy-handed, these opening moments are easily among the weakest of the film’s humor offers. Which is a shame, because it does drag the film from being the truly good comedy it could very easily have been into just a pretty good one.
Of course, there are more than just that that makes it just a slightly above-average comedy. In addition to what I mentioned above, there is also the problem that the movie is more amusing than outright hilarious. There are certainly some very, very funny moments, but there are some that just don’t work either. Oddly, with one or two exceptions, it is usually the smaller moments that are funnier than the brash, outlandish ones.
Rogen appears to be skating on his typical comedic personality here. Which, truthfully, is fine, but one must admit that it is going to get old pretty soon. I am hoping that he does more comedies like Observe and Report pretty soon. Because, in attention to being one of the most underrated big studio R-rated comedies in some time, it proved that Rogen could play a different kind of character and do it very well.
The main reason that this movie doesn’t live up to how good This is the End was is because it simply lacks that movie’s heart. There are moments of sweetness throughout, but where the former movie had a thoughtful look at male bonding relationships, this is mostly a strictly juvenile frat-boy comedy. Which, if done well like it is here, is fine, but not exceptional.
Admittedly, the frat boy audience in my screening ate it up like nobody’s business. But they are also the type of people that enjoy movies like Project X, so their comedic opinions don’t really matter.
Because seriously, that movie sucked. Hard.
Despite these flaws, though, this is a constantly funny movie, which is very well paced and knows how to keep things light and moving quickly. It is not hard to imagine that this movie is going to be a hit, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be. There is a lot here to like, even if there are a couple of things to dislike too. It may be hit-and-miss comedy, but the hits are hard.
Yes, I guess that is a penis joke. But, there are so many in here, it’s hard to not get sucked up in its attempts. Oh God, there I go again.