When you meet Mac and Kelly Radner, you instantly realize that they’re the world’s most adorable “only in the movies” couple. One unkempt but raunchily witty and the other gorgeous but chill, they’re a pair of thirty-something newlyweds with an even newer infant daughter. So, excuse them if they want the right kind of neighbors. You know, like that nice looking multi-cultural gay couple with their own newborn checking out the next-door home. It’s even totally understandable when that house becomes a makeshift fraternity Mecca for a group of party animals that the Radners throw a housewarming…with enough heat to hopefully burn the whole damn thing down.
Neighbors is that laugh-out-loud sleeper comedy that will play all summer long. As a movie that successfully marries the gross out hilarity of newlywed life and fraternity brothers bro-ing like it’s Animal House, this is exactly the outrageous comedy sketch set-up it sounds tailor-made to be. And fortunately, nearly every one of those sketches in the second half will shatter the funny bone, even as your sense of taste pulls away in shame.
Nicholas Stoller, who helmed Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek (not to mention wrote both recent Muppets movies), taps this project into that same good-natured depravity of his earlier works, though this story relies more on broadly drawn characters for its crassness. Luckily, this doubleheader farce can lean on solid casting in both residencies to elevate the situational archetypes.
As Mac, Seth Rogen gets to covertly follow-up his character from Knocked Up with a more affable co-star. Alongside, Rose Byrne in the part of Kelly, he plays off his onscreen wife with the requisite stream of filthy (and likely healthily improvised) one-liners and diatribes inherent with having sex in front of a baby girl or being too old to crash the nearby frat’s wild parties. He also develops an instant rapport with the said fraternity’s debauched leader, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron). The younger actor gladly has fun shaking off his Disney image again as the good-times dumb-dumb that doesn’t realize taking off his shirt and getting drunk won’t help him after graduation.
While Efron never elicits any great laughs on his own, bouncing against Rogen in wonderful fanboy-pandering moments like arguing who’s the better Batman, Michael Keaton or Christian Bale, will undoubtedly earn him some of the cool cred he’s still searching for. He’s also buttressed by a great supporting cast of fraternity hard drinkers, including Dave Franco, Jerrod Carmichael, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, the latter of whom has an extraordinary new talent for raising frat money. And when all four get to try out their “De Niro For A Day” impressions, it was like seeing a million Greek Halloween costumes being birthed at once.
But the real show stealer in this movie is Byrne playing the temporarily bored young housewife Kelly. I emphasize temporary, because after she spends more than one sleepless night with a crying infant bawling to the sounds of late night pool parties, this mother becomes an absolute diabolical force, fixated exclusively on ruining bros and their lives with hoes. For a genre that is typically dominated by the “guy’s movie,” Byrne is Neighbors’ secret asset. Allowed the rare opportunity to use her Australian accent, she showcases her most wickedly funny streak yet, proving again after Get Him to the Greek and Bridesmaids that she’s an underrated comic resource. Her relationship with Rogen is as crude as black market fireworks and just as explosive, providing a subversive refrain from the sitcom trope of the slob and the dutifully patient wife. Indeed, they share one scene midway through the picture of the kind of grotesque intimacy not gleamed since a bridesmaids bathroom.
These stronger elements help forego that the movie’s somewhat basic premise takes a long time to get going. Despite its brisk 97-minute running time, Neighbors spends a protracted first act putting the pieces in place for the comedy overload. In fact, seeing the Radners trying to gel with the fraternity for the first half hour is as awkward as old folks at any college party. This bumpy start, however, proves to be a false alarm after airbags begin to disappear from cars and basements start to flood.
Neighbors is the perfect summertime R-rated comedy for those looking for a breezy break from the spectacle of superheroes, and it’s one that ticks off enough boxes to appeal to both genders for its guilt-inducing laughs. Not necessarily the most original or emotionally cathartic of laughers, it is still one of the funniest movies yet released this year that lands more often than many of Judd Apatow’s own recently purported tearjerker giggles. And with such a winning cast, it will engross you in its grossness, demanding a trip back to the theater to see it again.