Neighbors is a lot more than the raunchy, R-rated romp its trailers marketed it more to be. Sure, it contains many of the staples of the genre, which include jokes about HIV and rape and not to mention the climax is set around an enormous frat party gone wrong. But Neighbors is much clever than an average passerby would expect as it examines the lives of its ensemble cast and shows the characters to be more than just stereotypes.
Perhaps what makes Neighbors work so well is its leads: Seth Rogen (as Mac Radner) and Rose Byrne (as his wife Kelly). Mac and Kelly are new parents who have been working to settled themselves down: Mac works at an office where he occasionally smokes weed with his best friend Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) while Kelly adjusts to being a stay-at-home mom. They’re not used to settling themselves down and miss the excitement and youth of their earlier days, despite not being that old.
Soon, though, Mac and Kelly come into conflict with their new neighbors, a fraternity house notorious for wild partying. Run by Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) and his V. P. Pete (Dave Franco), the frat’s loudness drives both Mac and Kelly to unwillingly call the police on them, causing an all-out war.
Where Neighbors succeeds is by avoiding the clichés and conundrums of a typical “slobs versus snobs” movie. Unlike many other Seth Rogen roles in the past, Mac is the first one to take full responsibility of his life, something of which his character isn’t yet prepared for. This casting makes the situational irony of a group of frat brothers viciously pranking Mac funnier as we’re used to see Rogen the other way around, as showing the precautions of older age. Bryne also doesn’t serve in the role of Mac’s nagging wife but as his co-partner. Her chemistry alongside Rogen results in many of the picture’s strongest scenes. Even Teddy and Pete aren’t just simply the regular college kids that inhabit frat movies. Teddy’s revealed to be a slacker whose unprepared for life after college while Pete is ready to move on. Neighbors may not be as deep as last year’s The World’s End, but it’s more sophisticated than you would think.
Through much of the film, though, Neighbors is pretty hit-or-miss in terms of its joke ratio. Many of the frat house’s pranks are ones we’ve seen before and Neighbors doesn’t carry as much of the growing eccentricity as last year’s This is the End did. Still, I enjoyed much of Neighbors, which is good and light entertainment for the beginning of the summer.