New parents transitioning into adulthood and college students transitioning into the real world are Neighbors, a comedy starring Seth Rogen.
Mac (Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) are new parents who love, but are a bit overwhelmed by, their baby and their house and the general grown-up-ness of their life. An attempt to leave the house for nighttime fun — baby’s first rave! — ends with them asleep, surrounded by diaper bags and the like, in the front hallway.
Perhaps the party can come to them. Fraternity Delta Psi moves into the house next door, bringing buff, scantily clad college students, parties and a reminder of what responsibility-free life looks like. Mac and Kelly meet frat president Teddy (Zac Efron) and vice president Pete (Dave Franco) and desperately try to convey that (a) they’re cool parents, not lame parents and (b) but keep the noise down. Naturally, the first party demonstrates that Delta Psi has no interest in keeping anything down. Mac and Kelly head over (baby monitor in hand) to talk to the guys and are persuaded to stay for some partying, which they gladly do. At the end of the night, Mac and Teddy make a promise — if it ever gets too loud, Mac needs to call Teddy, not the police.
Quickly, though, Mac and Kelly can’t take the noise and, after calls to Teddy yield no results, they call the police. Having broken the trust, according to Teddy, the Radners and Delta Psi are, in the great tradition of frat movies, at war.
Teddy and the frat trash the Radners’ lawn. Mac goes to the dean (Lisa Kudrow) to get the frat in trouble. Mac damages the frat house’s plumbing, hoping the cost of repairs will be too high for them to stay. Teddy steals the Radners’ car’s air bags, which (as shown in the trailer) end up as violent takes on the whoopie cushion.
Neighbors is at its best when it doubles down on its characters’ weirdness — perhaps best exemplified by any scenes including Barinholtz and Gallo, both of whom I’m most familiar with from roles on FOX TV shows The Mindy Project and Bones, respectively. Those two, especially, are kind of the distillation of the movie’s “just go with it” attitude toward a story wherein the characters act in nutty and occasionally criminal ways toward each other — from the property destruction of Mac’s attack on the frat’s water to the life-endangering prank with the air bags. Without exactly reaching the level of meta displayed by TV shows like Community (RIP, it will get six seasons and a movie in my dreams), Neighbors has an awareness of the kind of comedies it’s riffing on and plays with its characters’ occasional recognition that the world of their feud is not the real world.
I think the movie gets away with its looniness both because this comedy, which can seem loose and lackadaisical, is actually sharper with its humor than the throwaway jokes about pot and Rogen’s laugh lead you to believe, and because at its center are some actual deep thoughts about what happens to one’s identity when one goes through a major life change. As Franco’s Pete points out in the middle of the movie, Teddy’s obsession with the Radners is an excellent way for him to avoid thinking about his looming graduation and the rest of his life. He is king of his frat but he will just be another kid who needs a job after graduation. And Kelly and Mac find in the frat — whether they’re partying with it or fighting it — evidence that they are still young and zany, not boring parents. We’re still cool, they insist several times and, of course, (a) they’re not and (b) nothing solidifies that fact like proclaiming that you’re still cool. Embracing the uncoolness of their changes is, in both cases, the only chance the characters have of finding happiness in their new stages of life.
But, hey, don’t get me wrong, all of this thinky stuff — some of which I, owner of a giant mom purse full of juice boxes, Goldfish crackers and little socks, might be reading into it — is surrounded by a nice cushion of weed jokes and Rogen’s comic use of his hairy chest and a lot of what might generally be called “wiener humor.” Neighbors might hold extra appeal for new parents but it is broad and goofy enough to get laughs from the non-diaper-buying crowd as well. B-
Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity and drug use throughout. Directed by Nicholas Stoller with a screenplay by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, Neighbors is an hour and 36 minutes long and distributed by Universal Pictures.