‘Neighbors’: Raunch on the outside, sweet in the middle
A three-star review of the surprisingly winning hard-R comedy, “Neighbors,” starring Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as young parents who don’t quite want to grow up.
Seattle Times movie critic
‘Neighbors,’ with Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz, Lisa Kudrow. Directed by Nicolas Stoller, from a screenplay by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien. 97 minutes. Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity and drug use throughout. Several theaters.
The most shocking thing about the hard-R comedy “Neighbors” is that — surprise — it’s actually rather endearing. About as endearing as a movie featuring constant drinking, drugs, anatomy jokes and fraternity hazing can be, that is. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play Mac and Kelly Radner, a young married couple with a new baby girl they adore — but they worry that parenthood makes them unappealingly grown-up. When a fraternity house, led by president Teddy (Zac Efron), moves in next door, the Radners’ first instinct is to be friends and “cool neighbors.” Things change quickly, after raucous nightly frat parties keep the baby awake and Mac and Kelly vow to restore peace to the block — quickly creating an all-out turf war.
All of this sounds like a typical Hollywood comedy aimed at a college-age audience, and, as such, a lot of it doesn’t make any sense. (Why would the other neighbors not mind the noise? Why does baby Stella peacefully sleep whenever the script requires her to? Just how long can Zac Efron play a college kid, anyway?) But Rogen and Byrne are so likable and charming together, and play their scenes with such lightness, you’re immediately on their side. Mac and Kelly are a team, and they work well together; trying to balance their new life as parents and homeowners with their not-so-distant carefree youth.
In a funny early scene, the couple gets excited about taking the baby out to a club — they’re not boring old parents! they can still party! — but the exhaustive effort of gathering the diaper bag, supplies, stroller, baby equipment, etc. leaves them collapsed in a heap together, too tired to go out. The actors make it clear that these two aren’t just husband and wife, but great friends. (Note, too, terrific work from the ever-smiling infant who plays their daughter; give that kid a baby Oscar, and just try not to coo.)
Rogen’s character in particular is drawn, early on, to life in the frat; he’s thrilled when Teddy describes him as being not old but “like a senior who took a year abroad,” and the two of them bond over dueling Batman impressions. (Teddy’s is Christian Bale; Mac’s is Michael Keaton — a generational divide.) But the film, surprisingly, comes down on the side of this man-child growing up, and realizing that it’s not that he and Kelly are missing the party by being parents — “the party is us.” Say it with me: awww. “Neighbors” is a raunchfest, sure, but it’s sweet at its core.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org