Thursday, May 8, 2014

Review: Neighbors

by Adam Riske
Neighbors is the type of movie where you have a grin on your face even when you aren’t laughing.

Overall, I’m of two minds about Neighbors. The movie is funny (there’s a pledge named Assjuice for crying out loud) and it’s simply a good time. It’s also a bit meandering, aimless and lazy, but I’m willing to forgive the movie its faults because it works where it matters.

I went in expecting to enjoy Neighbors, seeing I am a fan of both director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, The Five-Year Engagement) and the great Seth Rogen. All in all, this is a middle-tier entry for the great Seth Rogen’s filmography and maybe better than Get Him to the Greek (which I enjoy more than most) for the work of Stoller. One area where the director improves on his previous entries is that Neighbors is shorter than his other movies. That’s smart, because there’s less going on here than in his other work. The runtime of 96 minutes is perfect for a comedy like this.
As mentioned, the positives of Neighbors jump out at me more than the negatives. The dialogue (written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien) is smart and amusing (more chuckles than big laughs, I would say) and the filmmakers do a good job tapping into what is nice about not being in college anymore (my favorite scene is a simple one near the end between the great Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne where they volley the virtues of being older). But the filmmakers also get the allure of frat life -- i.e. the appeal of irresponsibility, where you can shrug it off the next morning when you’re sober. As much as the frat is a nuisance to the great Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne characters, the couple almost equally wants to be saved from their adult lives by the frat. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition. As a viewer, you can see why. The party sequences at the fraternity made me deluded enough to think getting wasted would be a blast (the rest of the college experience scarcely exists in Neighbors, which is odd) and I don’t have that feeling too often. When I do, I keep it to myself. Like a boss.
The best part of the movie is the cast. Neighbors is extremely well-cast, down to the roles with only a single line of dialogue. The great Seth Rogen is his reliably hilarious self, but the interesting thing about his performance -- and what I admire most about it -- is how deferential he is here. It’s comparable to a game where LeBron James decides he wants to pass more than score. The biggest benefactor of that is Rose Byrne, who between this, Get Him to the Greek and Bridesmaids should be considered an excellent comedic actress. She’s quite good in all three of these movies. Surprisingly, Zac Efron is appealing here. He nails the self-seriousness and fear of moving on that many fraternity brothers have. It’s the best he’s ever been.

Also strong are Dave Franco (and his stare), Lisa Kudrow and Craig Roberts. Natasha Leggero, Jason Mantzoukas and Randall Park are all amusing in their single scenes. Fantastic are Hannibal Burress (who enhances his character with a little bit of a creep factor), Ike Barinholtz (who gets some great material to work with) and this new guy Jarrod Carmichael, who has a Dave Chappelle vibe I found endearing. I want to see him in more stuff. Oh yeah, Christopher Mintz-Plasse is in this. He’s fine?

The movie has an interesting style. Unlike most comedies, Neighbors feels more do-it-yourself and less professional, but that hand-held feel is surprisingly not a detriment. It gives the movie a different type of energy than most comedies. I’m guessing it was a cost-cutting method, considering the vast majority of the movie takes place in two houses and two offices.
I mentioned earlier that Neighbors is lazy and it’s true – there’s no story or plot really. Once the tiff between the fraternity and the married couple is established, that’s basically. It only escalates for the rest of the movie. It exists as a premise. I’ll also say (even though this won’t bother much of the audience) that as someone who was in a frat, this movie doesn’t really know much about being in one. That’s too bad, because the filmmakers could have gone much further delving into this dynamic for comedic possibilities. This is not a dark comedy and it might have benefited from a little more edge.

Yet, in a way I appreciate that the movie is pleasant. It’s populated by nice people who, even when they do mean things, are still nice people. I also respect how Neighbors doesn’t stop for pooping or gay panic set-pieces or any of that shit. There are set pieces, sure, but it is something akin to here’s a blacklight party and there are 20 jokes during the scene at the blacklight party.

I suspect Neighbors will fall into one of two camps for me: either I will watch it on Blu-ray over and over again or it will be a movie (like to Get Him to the Greek) that I only thought I would watch over and over on Blu-ray. Neighbors is amusing and entertaining if not much else. For the summer, that’s fine by me.


  1. I'm glad Neighbors proves to be a decent summer comedy. I was honestly expecting it to be very mid-level to bad, and I am not much of a Zac Efron fan at all. I'm still not exactly dying to see it, but I'm glad to know it's entertaining.

  2. Okay, I have a bone to pick with this movie, or more of a rant really. The movie itself was decent, but the problem I have isn't with the movie itself, but with something else altogether.

    If Patrick hates marketing and the rather "superficial" hype that surrounds major productions, then I have the same level of hatred towards product placement in movies. Case in point I can't think of a more overt use of product placement than in Neighbors.

    In particular I am talking about the scenes at the career fair (AT&T) and the one at the end of the movie with Abercrombie and Fitch. The blatant use of advertising in both scenes was rather embarrassing, and added nothing to the movie other than to make a few more million. The Apple facetime stuff was bad enough, but at least they didn't overuse it.

    We already have movies like Man of Steel and Spider-Man leading the way in product placement, but they aren't literally selling the products and companies like they were in Neighbors. Did they really need to pitch us on AT&T, and give us a brief summary on the company? Both scenes added almost nothing to the movie, and may have been filmed after the movie had been shot, since they really don't connect to anything else. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the movie had an 80 minute run-time to begin with, and then they decided to throw in these two product placements, just because they could.

    It's bad enough nearly every movie begins with 5-10 minutes of commercials these days, but now they need to inundate us with adverting throughout much of the movie as well.

    Now I don't mind it if they find creative ways to use product placement, like say M&M's in ET, Taco Bell in Demolition Man, or even the Kinect in Paranormal Activity 4. Then it's not too bad, as they either found ways to incorporate it into the plot, or they found clever ways to use them. But in Neighbors it wasn't clever, nor did I think it was particularly funny. The AT&T guy just calls Efron dumb... okay. Thanks for the sales pitch I guess!

    Some may say it doesn't matter, since it doesn't effect the movie itself, but really it does in a way. Product placement is becoming such a major part of movies these days, that studios are becoming overly reliant on it (look at Man of Steel for example). So they're going to try and only produce movies that give them opportunities for similar advertising. Why bother making movies like John Carter, Cloud Atlas, The Lone Ranger, or even Lincoln that offer you no chance for additional product placement? Unless Abe Lincoln is going to give as a sales pitch for Verizon next time around. It also can make movies seem dated, as in "remember when people liked Abercrombie and Fitch and used facetime?".

    It's just getting worse and worse too, and I don't see it changing any time soon. I am getting sick of it, and those two scenes were all that was memorable from Neighbors (to me), because of how irritating they were.

    Rant finished.

    1. I hate this too, but I'm not sure how much of it is just Hollywood cynically cashing in on an under-utilized revenue stream and how much of it is a fiscal necessity brought on by movie pirating to (a) recover lost revenue (which I'm sympathetic towards) and/or (b) monetize pirating insofar as they can convince advertisers that millions of otherwise non-paying customers at least equal more exposure to their brands if placed within the movie (which is shittier, but still understandable).

      As someone who several years ago thought nothing of downloading movies and barely put a cent towards the industry, but now spends well over $1000/year, I can attest to the fact that pirating is costing them mucho bucks and no doubt completely altering their financial models (not to mention flat out destroying companies like Blockbuster).

      I am wary of the kind of broad and overly-invasive laws required to actually punish movie pirating, but until they find away to effectively limit it, I'm afraid commercials within movies are here to stay. Find a movie thief and slap em upside the head - it might make you feel a little better at least.

    2. I would tend to agree with you Alex, but the AT&T and A&F scenes in Neighbors are really funny. At least they tried, right? I think the A&F one in particular is a really game move by Zac Efron because it's making fun of the actor just as much as the character I think.