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.
They also help carry the load of the film's most outrageous moments. With language just as coarse as their college-age adversaries, being hip to a liberal college experience in general (even if a bit past it; Rogan’s Mac nervously overuses the phrase “dope”), in addition to Kelly’s new motherhood trials (a painfully-full breast gag goes for the extreme “ewww” factor), the parents are just as much part of the film’s vulgar sensibility as the frat house is – which itself is replete with all of the partying content you’d expect, while also crossing a line or two. Or more. The most extreme examples are, perhaps predictably, phallic-based – including visual gags.
Zac Efron (That Awkward Moment) and Dave Franco (Now You See Me, and James Franco's younger brother) are the bro-team that leads the Frat House, guiding their brothers into the annals of Party Game lore (a cameo-laden recap of the history of Party Games is an early splash of inspiration). The roles are hardly a stretch for either, although both actors are clearly all-in for something so squarely in their wheelhouses. Aiding the outnumbered parents Mac and Kelley is Ike Barinholtz (TV's The Mindy Project) who, as their friend Jimmy, delivers a hilarious supporting turn that will serve as a career-building calling card.
Sure, Neighbors wants to have its cake and eat it too (and basically does) by playing both sides of the moral divide – coarse content on one side, traditional values on the other. And in affirming family life, Neighbors never fully condemns frat life – but it does show, rather clearly, that there’s no place for the fantasy of the frat house outside in the real world, and that striving to vault your epic parties into frat house legend is, well, pretty stupid.
So if this sounds like something that will offend you – trust me, it will (even for some who don’t consider themselves easily offended). But for those who won’t be, the silver lining is that Neighbors isn’t only wittier and smarter than you’d expect but it actually promotes the values that its target young male demo may be currently mocking. The parents, clearly fulfilled, even happily say of their baby-ruled domestic life, “We are the party” and "Getting old is cool." It may not be the movie you want your kids to see, but it's the message you want them to hear.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Drugs/Alcohol: Various (and raucous) frat house kegger party scenes in which the garden variety of drugs and alcohol are consumed: beer, liquor shots, weed, bongs, and a couple instances of cocaine snorting. Casual beer drinking and pot smoking also occurs in other scenes. And while the frat boys are “the bad guys”, their conduct isn’t condemned but merely depicted as having been taken to an irresponsible extreme.
- Language/Profanity: A litany of profane words are used, pervasively throughout, from the full range of swear words (including a handful of the Lord’s name taken in vain) to ongoing sexually crude and vulgar terms (including a use of the C-word). The N-word is also used twice.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: While not pervasive, there are explicit sexual moments. Two brief instances of sexual intercourse; in both, the man is on top of the woman while they are fully engaged in the act, the men is seen completely naked from behind while the womens’ torsos are blocked from view by the man. A scene involving about six frat brothers making plaster casts of their penises so as to create dildos (which are later seen) they can sell to raise funds; young women are seen buying them. Two guys get in a fight using dildos as weapons. A very quick shot of a guy’s long penis curled around a woman’s neck. A married couple tries to have sex in a chair; they begin but keep getting interrupted by their baby. A few moments of passionate kissing by college students, in parties where a “hook up” mentality is assumed. Four quick instances of topless young women, another of a mother’s breasts. Bikini-clad women at a pool party. Two women kiss. Two men kiss. A young man becomes fuller erect while wearing sweat pants. A yard shrub is cut into the shape of a person in a sexual position. Two people try to tear it apart and, in effect, end up replicating various sexual positions with the shrub. A used condom is picked up off the lawn. Some crude sexual gestures are made, including simulated sexual activity. A verbal reference is made to oral sex. Guys are naked during a hazing ritual (though not seen full frontal).
- Violence/Other: A few fistfights. Some violent surprise gags involving rigged airbags in non-car devices. A man’s leg is seen severely broken after falling from a high stair level.
Publication date: May 9, 20914
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