Starring: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Screenplay: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien
Comedy, Rated: R
Running Time: 96 minutes
Release Date: May 9, 2014
Mac/Kelly: Duo, P-N-P Moral, Pro (Redeemed Buddy Heroes)
Teddy/Pete: Duo, N-P Moral, Ant (Redeemed Divergent Mastermind/Henchman Villains)
Scott, we just saw Neighbors – is it time we mended some fences?
When it comes to legal battles with bad neighbors, the de-fence never rests. Let’s recap.
Mac Radner (Seth Rogen) and his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) are thirty-somethings with a baby girl and a mortgage in suburbia. They are finding out just how hard it can be to be parents and still have a good time. Just as they’re figuring it all out, a fraternity moves in next door. They want to be cool so drop by for a visit with an offering of some weed – and an awkward request to “keep the noise down.” That night the Delts put on a wild party and wake them. Mac and Kelly walk over to tell their new neighbors to keep it down – when the president of the fraternity, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) invites them in. The parental duo live it up and become best buds with the frat boys.
But all is not well when Mac and Kelly are kept awake nearly every night by the fraternity’s non-stop partying. Mac makes what he thinks is an anonymous call to the cops but the cops reveal Mac’s identity, putting him on the fraternity’s enemy list. The Delts use Mac’s car’s airbags against him in amusing ways, and they do other things to make the couple miserable. Finally, Mac and Kelly devise a plan to get the fraternity into legal trouble which will lead to its expulsion from the university, but of course the plan does not quite unfold as anticipated.
Scott, Neighbors had a great opportunity to be yet another sophomoric gross-out comedy by some of Hollywood’s comedy newcomers. But instead we were served up a surprising look at a different kind of coming-of-age story – growing out of the party age and into the responsibilities of parenting. I enjoyed this movie which employed the contrast between young and not-so-old to create a comedic tale of life at the beginning of adulthood.
Greg, you and I gleaned the same message from this movie. I have a theory about Seth Rogen. The roles and movies he chooses for himself reveal him to be the smartest man in Hollywood. In Neighbors he plays a 30-something new husband and father of a newborn baby. Rogen knows exactly what most educated 30-something men are feeling in this situation – they want the joys of domestication without losing their old debaucherous college lifestyle. In short, they want it all, and in this movie, Rogen’s character and his wife get it all. And then some.
Rogen’s genius here lies not only in portraying the dilemma of the post-adolescent young adult male, but also taking that dilemma to absurd and hilarious extremes. His jiggling 30-something body clashes with the six-packed fraternity brothers but Mac raises the ante anyway. He doesn’t “use” drugs, he gorges on them to the point of partaking in urination sword-play. Is it a dream come true or a nightmare come true? With a wink to the camera, Rogen tells us it’s both.
The heroes here are Mac and Kelly. In our book on movie heroes we identify Duos as a major hero category and Mac and Kelly fall into the Buddy sub-category. Unlike so many buddy stories Mac and Kelly are aligned in their goals. This is a powerful dynamic. They aren’t constantly bickering with each other. Instead, they are united against their more powerful foe. I read an article about Rogen where he talks about how he patterned this buddy pair on his own relationship with his wife. At her urging, he made the Radners a happily married couple. When it comes time to create a plan to fight against the frat boys, this commitment packs a big punch.
Every hero has a mission, and Mac and Kelly’s pre-mid-life crisis clouds their mission. Their domesticated personas want peace and quiet for them and for their baby, but deep down they want to party to just as hard as the fraternity next door. Do they defeat the enemy or make love to the enemy? In this movie they do both, and their confused identity leads to a zig-zagging hero story.
The primary villain is Teddy, head of the Delts next door, but the fraternity itself is the institutional structure that Mac and Kelly are aiming to destroy. Sometimes villains are large organizational bodies with human representatives serving as the proxy. Mac and Kelly are also fighting their own personal issues – for example, their lack of full maturity gets in the way of their ability to fulfill their mission.
I think you’ve nailed it, Scott. Another type of hero we identify in our book is the Ensemble and the sub-category is that of the Fraternity. Here we see that same pattern but for the villain. The entire Delta Psi fraternity is the villain in this story. But that is a difficult story to write – “the two of use against all of them.” So all the attention is poured into Teddy as the leader of the frat.
In other villain patterns we’ve seen this year, the lead villain as the one who pulls the strings – letting some lesser character do the dirty work. But Teddy is very active in his antics against the Radners. And there is a full transformation for Teddy as well. By the end of the film he realizes that he has to grow beyond his college-age hijinks and become a full adult with goals and responsibilities. It is a nice villain mini-journey.
On the surface, Neighbors is a silly, juvenile movie that is packed with raunchy gags and absurd plot devices. But lurking below the slimy surface is a movie that offers a potent sociological commentary about the challenges young adults face when they form a young family before they are ready to shed their youthful party-animal urges. I enjoyed Neighbors far more than I had any right to, for many of the same reasons I enjoyed Rogen’s 2013 movie This is the End. Both films made my inner-13-year-old boy giggle while making my outer-middle-aged man nod in understanding. I give this movie 3 Reels out of 5.
The two heroes in this film were sent on a journey that most mature adults could handle with little difficulty, but Mac and Kelly’s lack of maturity — their missing inner quality — led them to commit one massive mistake after another. Eventually, they “got it”, although it’s a bit unclear how truly transformed they are by the film’s end. I award them 3 Heroes out of 5.
As you point out, Greg, the main villain Teddy is perhaps the one person in this movie who transforms the most. We learn that he isn’t a terrible person, just a terribly misguided person. He receives some mentoring from his “villainous” sidekick Pete (Dave Franco) which enables him to outgrow his basest animal house instincts. It’s not a very deep villain story but it’s a fairly effective one. I award the villains in this movie 3 out of 5 Villains.
Neighbors is a fun look back at both college life and life as a new parent. I felt at home with all the characters in this movie as either representatives of my own experiences or people I have known. I was entertained more than I expected and so happily award 3 out of 5 Reels to this film.
The Radners were nice, likable people with a bit of growing to do. Their transformation couldn’t come soon enough for me as I never trusted their baby monitor to perform between houses. The initial challenges they experienced as newly-minted parents (never finding a quiet time for lovemaking) gave way to a thorough enjoyment of child-rearing. I also give them 3 out of 5 Heroes.
The Ensemble/Fraternity villains represented by leader Teddy was just enough of a challenge for our heroes. In any story the opposition needs to be at least as strong as the hero – and preferably a bit stronger. I enjoyed the transformation for Teddy which gave him the second Villain’s Journey this summer. I’ll join you in giving Teddy 3 out of 5 Villains.