Come and knock on our door
Outrageous comedies need to push buttons and boundaries, but the craziness is that much funnier if there’s a relatability and a believability to the characters caught in the lunacy.
The makers of “Neighbors” get that. As ridiculous as the movie sometimes is, the motivations that drive the characters will be recognizable to anyone who’s been a parent or graduated from college. And that makes the movie as satisfying as it is funny, a rare achievement in hard-R comedies.
Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne star as Mac and Kelly Radner. The married couple has a new house, a new baby and the responsibilities and financial strains that come with both. Their love for their child is undeniable, but those baby books for expectant parents didn’t really prepare them for just how much their life would change. A couple that once spent its nights going to concerts and hanging out with friends is starting to feel like a sleep-deprived prisoner in that expensive new home.
Whatever sanctuary that home provides is threatened when Delta Psi Beta fraternity moves in next door. Not only do they worry that the new neighbors will make them even more sleep-deprived, the bashes next door become a reminder of the carefree life left behind in the wake of work, marriage and parenthood.
They have good reasons to be fearful. Delta Psi Beta has a hard-partying reputation, and frat president Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) is determined that his senior year will be legendary enough to make the frat’s wall of fame.
The Radners can’t afford to move, so they decide to silence or drive out the frat, while the frat boys are make life miserable for Radners after they make a noise complaint to the police.
Screenwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien fill their script with memorable one-liners, like Mac’s many observations about Teddy’s buff physique or criticizing his wife for wearing a white “wife beater” while making love (“It’s like having sex with Tony Soprano,” he tells her).
There also are some truly oddball ideas – a Robert De Niro party at the frat that has Teddy dressed as Travis Bickle and Pete (Dave Franco) dressed as Jack Byrnes from “Meet the Parents” doing goofy De Niro impressions – and a hilarious recurring bit that inventively uses car airbags.
Not all of it works, but the batting average is far higher than audiences have learned to expect. Director Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) continues to show a knack for directing broad comedy, this time with greater emotional depth.
Even if audiences will have to suspend disbelief that no one else is complaining about the noise from Delta Psi Beta, much of the comedy is rooted in truth. Byrne’s Kelly is more developed than the female characters tend to be in male-driven comedies. Viewers can feel her boredom, her restlessness at being a stay-at-home mom as well as Kelly’s and Mac’s desire still to be perceived as cool by the college students they once were.
Efron gets to play more than a rowdy party boy here. While watching the frat house makes Kelly and Mac miss their past, seeing the married family makes Teddy confront his future and the fact that his college years are nearly over and he hasn’t accomplished much – not even getting himself on that wall of fame.
May has been a good month for R-rated comedy at the box-office. Both the “Hangover” sequels and “Bridesmaids” earned big money with pre-Memorial Day openings. “Neighbors” deserves to be just as successful.