Like many red-blooded gay men, I got my myself to a movie theater this weekend and saw ‘Neighbors.’ And, yes, it was everything I wanted and more: It met my expectations in terms of being essential Zac Efron porn, and also blended well-executed physical humor, clever raunch and smart social commentary with nearly perfect measure (it also helped that it featured one of the most layered comedic performances in recent memory thanks to Rose Byrne — seriously, give this woman an Oscar nomination). But what fascinated me most about ‘Neighbors’ — both in how it got me into the movie theater and what I saw when I was there — extends well beyond it simply being a increasingly rare example of an excellent studio-produced comedy. It was more about how it might just be the gayest studio-produced comedy ever made. Especially considering it doesn’t even have a single (explicitly) gay character.
When Seth Rogen’s Mac sees Zac Efron’s Teddy in the film for the first time, he offers Rose Byrne’s Kelly one of the film’s best lines: “He looks like something a gay guy created in a lab.” It’s funny ’cause it’s true, and honestly sometimes feels like the same could be said for ‘Neighbors’ itself. From its homoerotic frat house moments to its fetishization of Efron (and co-star Dave Franco, for that matter) to uniquely subversive takes on the standard gay panic jokes found in the long lineage of homophobic films that ‘Neighbors’ was born out of, the film seems to be outright pandering to gay audiences.
And that’s just as true of its marketing. The team behind ‘Neighbors’ clearly knew that having a largely shirtless Zac Efron parading around their film was a golden ticket to some pink dollars, and sexualized the shit out of him in their materials. They also aggressively sought out advertising and coverage in gay male-oriented magazines and websites. And it definitely seemed to work.
But I suspected that there would be a bit of deception in this marketing when I headed into the film. Sure, there’d be a lot of Efron’s abs, but this would still at its core be a film made by and for straight men. And while that technically remains the case (at least I think so — I couldn’t find anything confirming otherwise about its director and writers), I was pleasantly taken aback by the remarkable amount of blatant homoeroticism in ‘Neighbors’ that, for once, didn’t come with any underlying homophobia.
There’s the relationship between Rogen and Efron’s characters, for example. Rogen’s Mac clearly has a serious crush on Efron’s Teddy and he has no issue discussing it with his wife (“that’s the most gorgeous man I’ve ever seen!”). Mac can’t take his eyes off Teddy, and jumps at the chance — after a night partying — to have a “sword fight” by pissing together into a fountain. ‘Neighbors’ rather boldly (again, for a summer studio film) plays off Efron’s physical attributes to suggest that there’s some people that are simply too attractive for people of any sexual orientation to deny.
There’s Teddy and his friendship with Frat house BFF Pete (Dave Franco, who has essentially made a career off homoerotic viral videos — and let’s not even get started on his older brother). When their relationship is threatened because Pete sleeps with Teddy’s girlfriend (a scene where the nudity is refreshingly all Franco), Teddy is quick to back down off via the “bros before hos” motto he and his frat holds so queerly dear (the film certainly doesn’t shy away from depicting the homoeroticism evident in frats in general). This leads into a very suggestive rhyme off in honor of said motto, with the two going back and forth with the likes of “Bert and Ernie before squirt and spermy.”
And then there’s Teddy himself. His interest in girls seems less of a carnal nature than it is in retaining his status as the king of the boys that worship him and creating a legacy within the frat, not to mention waging a war with new neighbors Mac and Kelly, his relationship with Pete, and, most of all, his own body. Teddy seems to fetishizing himself just as much as we are in the audience. Which kind of acts as a metaphor for the state of a lot of contemporary gay men, no? I mean, suggesting that it was an intentional aspect “Neighbors” to present social commentary on Grindr-era gay men is officially overreaching here, but it’s still very easy to read that into it.
I could go on and on, from the implicitly suggested queerness of Mac’s own best friend Jimmy (there’s an absolutely amazing Grindr joke in there that more than anything confirms my suggestion of who ‘Neighbors’ is pandering to) to a pledge nicknamed “Ass-juice” who suggests he’s been enjoying all the homoerotic hazing he’s been subjected to (“Scotty put his dick in your mouth while you were asleep”/”Uh huh, I wasn’t asleep”) to a sequence involving the entire fraternity paster casting their erect penises (merchandise tie-in, svp!). The film really demands a full on cultural studies thesis written about it that would offer more than the 30 minutes I had to write this post. But you probably already get the point, at least: For once, gays were not only in on ‘Neighbors’, but it seems to have largely been made for them. And that’s already helped pay off to the tune of a $51 million opening weekend, so let’s hope there’s a few more films set to come out of that lab where they made Zac Efron.