In my opinion there are two different types of audiences for comedies: those who like Seth Rogen movies, and those who like Zac Efron movies. With one lining up to see a bunch of men in their 30s smoking weed and spitting out one-liners typically involving sex or drugs, and the other expecting a more family-safe romantic comedy or musical, you would not think there is a big overlap in the Rogen-Efron Venn diagram. And frankly, making a film that would please both audiences may be impossible. But those two big names star in a new comedy called “Neighbors,” in theaters now.
Although Rogen was not involved in writing this screenplay, the writers, Andrew Cohen and Brandan O’Brien, are in Rogen’s close circle of Hollywood friends and share his brand of humor. “Neighbors” will definitely satisfy Rogen’s crowd, as it is filled with drug-related jokes, movie references, sexual references and clever one-liners. It induces nonstop laughter, but I cannot see Efron followers digging it as much as I did. However, there are plenty of scenes with him shirtless, which might be what his audience is most interested in.
In “Neighbors,” Efron loses the nice-guy persona to convincingly play Teddy, a jerk of a college student who takes his job as fraternity president a little too far. Surrounded by his brothers and pledges, he’s joined by Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Jerrod Carmichael. They are Delta Psi Beta, the wildest frat on campus, and after burning their old house down, they have just moved next door to a married couple with a newborn, played by Rogen and Rose Byrne. At first, the couple sees the frat as a way to reconnect with their fun party side, before they became boring parents. After an all-night rager that keeps the baby up and ends with a 911 noise complaint, the two houses go to war.
Their back-and-forth feuding drives the rest of the film but never gets too repetitive. With antic after hilarious antic, Rogen and Byrne try getting rid of Delta Psi first with reason, confronting the school’s dean, a funny Lisa Kudrow. Next they try force, using the “bros before hoes” motto to tear the brothers apart. Rogen’s coworker and friend, played by Ike Barinholtz, even helps them to spy into the house. Before too long, the college kids seem more mature than the adults.
What is surprising is that most of the films’ raunchy humor comes from Rogen and Byrne and not the frat boys. In one pushing-the-boundaries scene, Byrne’s breast pump breaks and Rogen has to milk his wife. Don’t let this imply this is one of those comedies that “hates women.” In fact, Byrne’s stay-at-home mom character is one of the funniest and strongest female characters of any Rogen project.
At the core of every Rogen film, under all the crude humor typically lies a sweet and honest moral about friendship or love. There is a touching subplot involving Efron and Franco’s characters, whose friendship ends similarly to Michael Cera and Jonah Hill’s goodbye at the end of “Superbad.”
We learn that their clashing with the frat is just the couple’s way of distracting themselves from problems within their marriage, a reoccurring device in Rogen movies. Like in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” Steve Carell’s goal to finally have sex is just a distraction from his love story with Catherine Keener. Or in “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” the making of the porno is just a way for Rogen and Elizabeth Banks to realize they love each other. In the end, “Neighbors” is actually a film about a couple learning to stick together, through good times and bad.