Neighbors Deftly Duplicates Apatow's 'Conservatively Crass' Formula
- Friday, May 09, 2014
Release Date: May 9, 2014
Rating: R (for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout)
Run Time: 91 min
Directors: Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Seth Rogan, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Lisa Kudrow
Hard-partying students who rebel against puritanical authority-figures have been a staple of R-rated American comedies since the 1970s. Neighbors plays to that genre's raucous tradition, but then subverts that tradition in one startling respect: it flips the script on who to root for. In the past, audiences have cheered for frat boys to pull off the The Party of the Century. But now, Neighbors has us hoping for their comeuppance.
When movies like this push the boundaries of the R-rating, one of the first questions filmgoers ask is, "Well how far does it go?" The answer is what you'd expect: pretty far. There's profane and vulgar language throughout, some drugs (a little coke, a lot of pot, a few bongs), plenty of booze, occasional nudity, brief but graphic sex, and heavy doses of sexual humor. But for as much as it relishes in its content, Neighbors is a rarity in not being solely dependent on it.
The script is smart, even inventive, the characters well-written and well-played (there's dimension beneath the broad archetypes), and the message is downright old-fashioned in concluding that what's actually cool is growing up, and even growing old. In the battle of Fraternity vs. Family, it's the latter that’s affirmed – which is less surprising when you also consider that director Nicholas Stoller also co-wrote the recent (and values-friendly) Muppet movies.
This mix of crass content and conservative ideals is a formula Judd Apatow patented in big hits like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, but with his filmography continuing to offer diminishing returns (recent flops Funny People and This is 40), Neighbors stands as the best Apatowian offering in over a half-decade. Granted, Judd has nothing to do with this effort, but its key collaborators are branches from Apatow's Comedy Tree.
It's all founded on a simple premise: just as Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne) are settling down with their newly-born baby girl, a fraternity moves into the house next door. The loud latenight parties are a nightmare for the Radners' need for sleep (and general child safety), and polite tensions soon escalate into an all-out retaliatory war. Comedy, as they say, ensues – and boy, does it ever.
Yes, the humor mostly reaches for the raunch, but not out of lazy reflex. As the narrative stakes are raised, the gross-out gags land with as much shock-value in their contrivance as their content. Some of the doozies they come up with here will no doubt become legendary as our collective Pop Culture buzzes about this movie – not just for weeks, but likely ages. While this has a clear stand-alone story with no franchise aspirations, sequels seem inevitable.
Apatow vets Rogan (from TV's Freaks & Geeks to numerous movies) and Byrne (the Apatow-produced Bridesmaids) are great anchors for this bawdy material. The pair has an easy and charming chemistry, they're deft at authenticating some pretty bizarre antics and impulses, and they play to the joy of being young parents rather than to the stress. They don't doubt or mope for a second about whether they're ready to raise a child or not. Most films would play up the conflicts of being a New Parent; this one plays up its delights (plus their baby girl is ridiculously cute and adorable). Their one brief moment of division is short-lived before recognizing how entirely ridiculous it is.
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