As I was leaving a preview screening of “Neighbors,” the new “comedy” starring Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, I discovered, much to my dismay, that Peter Gabriel’s new concert film, “Back to Front,” had been playing next door at the same time. Guess which movie I would have much rather seen?
Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m not the right age group for “Neighbors” or movies of their ilk. Or maybe “Neighbors” is pretty damn bad regardless of age group. But I really, really, really hated this movie. I only laughed three times, and one of those laughs came during a scene that was given away by the trailer. I quickly ran out of patience with “Neighbors,” unlike the frat boys and sorority girls invited to the screening, who laughed non-stop at the barrage of jokes, including a tasteless one about rape.
The premise is truly promising. It’s the execution that leaves a lot to be desired. Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Rose Byrne) have just moved into their suburban dream home with newborn baby Stella (the only good thing about “Neighbors”). They are embracing this new life with so much enthusiasm that they can’t quite stop talking about it. Weeks later, the house next door is rented to a college fraternity that’s in deep waters with their school’s administration. Fearing the worst and that they might be mocked as thirty-something fuddy-duddies, both Kelly and Mac decide to be good neighbors and introduce themselves to the kids next door, and nicely ask frat president Teddy (Zac Effron) to keep the noise a teensy-weensy down. As a further sign of good will they bring to the frat’s housewarming party a token of good will: some pot. At the party, Kelly and Mac relive their glory days as college students while leaving their baby is fast asleep next door without a nanny to look after it.
And are there any repercussions to this one act? NONE!!!! The baby is still fast asleep when their parents return home the following morning! And did I mention that for some bizarre reason, the arrival to this quiet street of this fraternity doesn’t ring any alarm bells whatsoever in the neighborhood? Isn’t there a neighborhood block club that would have screamed, ranted and raved about this? Apparently not, according to first time scriptwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien who are far more content in concocting outrageous situations than ones that are truly funny that would at least obey logic.
The peace between neighbors doesn’t last long: the frat boys party night after night after night until the wee hours of the morning. The only neighbors who seem to be bothered by this are the Radlers. All bets are off when Mac makes the mistake of calling the police on them after promising Teddy he wouldn’t. Both neighbors declare war on each other. Allies are called in on both sides and the hostilities escalate from one downright unfunny act of revenge after another, while the neighbors seem to be completely unaware of the conflict and the police is nowhere to be found. Penis and breast-feeding jokes are thrown at the audience as so much crap can be thrown at the wall to see what sticks.
Characters are humiliated but I never, ever felt any sympathy towards them. And that is the film’s biggest flaw. Most comedies are built on embarrassing and sometimes humiliating situations. But we always, always must feel some empathy towards the characters. Mac and Kelly and their best friends may be immature, infantile, and selfish but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t at least care for them.
For example, there is a whole subplot involving Pete’s (David Franco), Teddy’s right hand man, realization that maybe frat life is not what it’s all cut out to be and that maybe, just maybe, they should be thinking about their future. That subplot had as much potential as the main plot and made me feel that, in the right hands, “Neighbors” would have been a far funnier and poignant film. But that subplot too is drowned by noise.
I came close to caring near the end of the movie, when both Mac and Teddy run into each other, the latter modeling outside the doors of an Abercrombie and Fitch. It’s a quiet, truly funny and moving moment as both characters finally show us what they are made of and what was sorely missing from the film. “Neighbors” is so busy trying to outdo one outrageous gross-out joke with another that it forgot what makes any comedy worthy of the name: heart.