In all honesty, I was a little afraid of what this movie meant for Seth Rogen’s career. He’s always been a slacker-stoner archetype, mostly because I think that he’s very much like that in real life, and he’s always been really funny because of it. So when I heard he stars in a movie with a plot synopsis that sounds like a premise to a bad sitcom, and the character who I would normally associate his persona with is being played by Disney teen starlet Zac Efron, I had some serious reservations about it. And yet, lo and behold, this is exactly the type of movie it needed to be, and it’s a great preview of the career paths for both Rogen and Efron. Oh, and let’s not forget, it’s really damn funny!
The story is that married couple Mac and Kelly (played by Rogen and Rose Bryne, respectively) have poured all their money into a new house and are looking forward to raising their infant daughter there. However, when a fraternity moves into the house next door, the couple becomes worried that the noise will disturb their tranquil new home. The fraternity’s president, Teddy, is played by Efron, and he only wants to leave a legacy behind for future generations of the frat, so it’s his goal to throw the most over-the-top parties imaginable. And so, a series of escalating pranks take place so as to try and force each other to move out.
What sounds like it should be a corny set-up is actually cleverly executed. As I said before, I think that Rogen would have fit into the frat-boy persona decently enough a few years ago, but this film acknowledges something pretty important here: Rogen isn’t getting any younger. Rogen’s pot-smoking loser antics aren’t going to hold up forever, so something needs to change. Neighbors gets meta-textual about the whole issue and makes Rogen’s character a new family man who is essentially trying to recapture the lost devil-may-care attitude that he had only five years ago. It’s a stroke of genius, and yet it never goes so far as to imply that he’s neglectful of his adult responsibilities, which would make him a tired mid-life crisis cliché. In fact, his wife is right there with him the entire time, and the way they make their adult lives work around trying to screw over the fraternity is the set-piece of at least a couple well-done scenes.
And of course, the big surprise hit here is seeing Zac Efron put on the big boy shoes and actually do some damn fine acting. He knows how to deliver a funny line and actually seems to fit right in to the shoes that Rogen has left for him to fill. Not only that, but his character actually has some surprising depth to him, allowing Efron to shine as a dramatic actor for a few short scenes, and yet never brings the light-hearted feeling of the production to a halt. Efron is someone who’s going to be sticking around for a while, and if he can keep up this good work, I’ll be happy to see him.
I should also make note of Rose Bryne’s great comedic touches as well; she isn’t as well-known as Rogen or Efron, so I can’t really analyze her career trajectory, but she’s just as valuable to the film as the two male leads. And yeah, I suppose I should close out by mentioning the most important thing in reviewing a comedy: it’s really damn funny. It’s hard to say more than that without giving away the humorous surprises, as is per usual in a comedy, but I will say that it makes full use of the R rating. Even the gross-out humor that would have fallen flat in any other film is made charming by Rogen’s and Efron’s charisma. Neighbors is everything I wanted it to be, and it is well worth the time investment to get a few genuine laughs.
What’s your favorite Seth Rogen film? Let me know in the comments below.