Fraternity Fun Gone Awry In ‘Neighbors’


What really happened to the graduates of Animal House? At the end of that movie, of course, there were quick, funny summaries of their futures, but what happens when the real partiers have to grow up? That’s the basic point of Neighbors, a new, funny comedy that is not as sweet as its predecessor, or as funny.

There is a lot of Peter Pan in all of us. Being in school, even college, is a way of not growing up, avoiding the responsibilities of adults. (Of course, I realize that many people go to college under tough circumstances, including family responsibilities and employment, but this movie is not about them.) What happens to the hard-partiers when the world hits them? And how do they deal with their pasts?

Mac (Seth Rogan) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) are former partiers who grew up, got married and had a child. He works as an office drone. Their life is totally unlike their earlier years… and then a fraternity moves in next door. Forget the facts that not only would the average suburban neighborhood fight the coming of the boys as a zoning violation, and that the kids would have to be morons not to realize that there would be major issues living in a quiet neighborhood. But they move in, nonetheless, led by Teddy (Zac Efron) and his goofy friend Pete (Dave Franco).

The Radners try to play it cool, even partying at first with the frat gang, welcoming them with some neighborly marijuana, but the late-night partying and little things like their child finding condoms on the lawn create issues. Mac calls in the police, although he had promised Teddy he would come to him with issues. And so war begins. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the issues the Radners had with growing up, the filmmakers decided to go gross. There are tricks played by all concerned.

While the Delts in Animal House did most of their pranks in fun, this film has a definite edge. Kelly plays sexual games with some younger males and females to set the kids off on each other. And somehow, a group of boys playing peeping Tom on a married couple having sex seems far nastier than Bluto watching sorority girls having pillow fights in their nighties. That nasty edge creates a bittersweet feeling; yes, you might laugh for a second, but then there is that guilty edge for enjoying massive discomfort.

Rogan is perfectly cast as the over-age party guy. We have seen him in many movies acting like a kid even though he is rather too old for those parts. Here we get to see him as a real grown-up, watching him resent the fact. But he knows how to handle the slow burns, the second looks, the double entendres. Byrne is even better. She has handled many a thankless role, playing second fiddle. Here, as the leading lady, she demonstrates her ability to create a well-rounded character instead of a caricature. She manages to be funny, while being nasty, and still hold our sympathy. After all, a key reason for her actions, as well as those of her husband, is that they think they are protecting their child.

Efron, newly pumped up with muscles to avoid being mistaken for his old high school characters, plays Teddy as a kind of sociopath. He is not crazy; he has his own set of standards that he feels the Radners have broken, and that leads to a more or less straightforward war against them. Not until late into the movie does he seem to come to the realization that the older folks might have a point and might even be nice. Franco, as his second in command, finds ways to ameliorate the difference and comes across as a sweet clown.

I laughed quite often; not nearly as much as for Animal House or Old School, but we do need some good comedies. The problem with this, as with most R-rated comedies, is that the line between funny and gross varies so much for each person. There are some things here that may make you uncomfortable. This movie is definitely not for everyone, although I will bet folks who like Rogan’s other movies will enjoy this one.

It is a decent comedy, not one of the greats, but a nice way to have a relaxing pre-summer laugh or two.