Universal Pictures smartly debuted “Neighbors,” the raunchy, R-rated comedy starring Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne and Zac Efron as the titular domestic warmongers, at SXSW 2014, where it picked up great word-of-mouth from festival-goers and critics alike. (Red Band trailer and Rogen on Conan O’Brien below.)
These two male leads couldn’t be further apart, in both looks and appeal. But therein lies the humor of Nicholas Stoller’s directorial followup to 2008’s smash hit “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” –since then he’s been the screenwriter sauce behind the two recent “Muppets” movies, “The Five-Year Engagement,” “Get Him to the Greek” and “Yes Man.”
Stoller is the real deal. This well-constructed contemporary comedy reveals Rogen and “Bridesmaids” star Rose Byrne at their whip-smart best as hip young parents who are reveling in their new baby (the most adorable movie baby ever) until new neighbors move in next door. It’s the nightmare from hell: a raucous fraternity house dominated by ringleader Zac Efron. At first Rogen and Byrne make nice with the enemy, trying a tad too hard to be cool and showing them that they too, baby monitor in hand, can party all night. While Efron and his boys play along, they have no intention of changing their wild ways and the neighbors are soon engaged in all-out war.
Stoller inventively ratchets up the stakes and physical slapstick as the 30-somethings and Efron’s frat boys attack and counter. One skit involving the well-placed deployment of exploding airbags is hilarious. Efron is unexpectedly winning as a dimwitted bully with great abs; offering stalwart support are Dave Franco, brother of James, Jake Johnson and Lisa Kudrow. Produced by Mandate (“Juno”), the film was shot in less than two months on an $18 million budget.
Universal should be over the moon when “Neighbors” goes wide on May 9 to boffo box office returns. Here’s what critics are saying so far — and with 100% on the Tomatometer, reviews are across-the-board gold.
The Hollywood Reporter writes:
“Neighbors” represents a more real-world point of view than “Animal House” and “Old School,” one that understands frat-boy excess not as a joyous manifestation of Bacchanalian life-force, but as a pointless, retrograde enterprise that should be stomped mercilessly — even if the middle-class banality that quashes it isn’t everyone’s ideal of adulthood. If a shirtless Zac Efron sells tickets, the sight of him being bested by proudly flabby Seth Rogen may sell just as many. Isn’t it strange to see Seth Rogen becoming a model for the young American grown-up?
Variety praises Efron’s “credible and intriguing” performance:
Lewder, weirder, louder, leaner, meaner and more winningly stupid than anything its director Nicholas Stoller and star Seth Rogen have ever been involved with before, frat comedy “Neighbors” boasts an almost oppressive volume of outrageous gags, and provided that audiences don’t mind the lack of anything resembling a coherent story arc, its commercial potential ought to be enormous.
HitFix says it’s a new comedy classic:
“Neighbors” is a comedy people will return to often, and I would hope it leads to much more work for the writers. Stoller is already in demand, but I think this is going to make people reassess just how good he really is. What we saw tonight is technically a work-in-progress, but it felt very polished already. I may have a slightly sore throat as I head to bed tonight, but it’s sore from laughing. One of the highest compliments I can pay to any film is to say I can’t wait to see them again, and that is absolutely true of “Neighbors.”
Film School Rejects laughed their heads off:
The physical comedy and sight gags are well choreographed, but the film doesn’t lean too heavily on jackassery for its laughs. Nor does it treat the frat boys solely as adversaries, giving us scenes from Teddy and Pete’s point of view to flesh them out (and “flesh” is definitely the right word). It would be easy in a comedy like this to do nothing but make fun of frat boys, but “Neighbors” doesn’t take the easy way out.
The Playlist loves Rose Byrne:
Efron and Rogen are flanked by a ridiculously terrific supporting cast, including Ike Barinholtz as Rogen’s best friend, Lisa Kudrow as the dean of the frat’s college, “Submarine” star Craig Roberts as a pledge known as “Assjuice” and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as another fraternity brother (one whose, um, member is legendarily huge). But the breakthrough performance in the movie, and the one that took tonight’s SXSW screening by storm, is Rose Byrne.