The plot of “Neighbours” (titled “Bad Neighbours” in Australia) can be pretty much summed up by this Buzzfeed article ‘Life in your early 20s vs your late 20s’. And like a list full of gifs that you can relate to (it’s almost like all the writers of Buzzfeed are also children of the 90s…) it’s not very deep but makes you laugh.
Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are a couple with a newborn baby applying the ‘fake it til you make it’ approach to loving life as a responsible adult in the suburbs. Teddy (Zac Efron) is the head of a fraternity that has just moved in next door. Yes, wackiness ensues.
While a pretty thin premise for a film, the movie succeeds thanks largely to the charm of the cast and the clear effort made to create characters more complex than most of their comedy film counterparts. Except maybe the characters of Scoonie. And Assjuice. But apart from that. Efron’s Teddy is no villain, just a guy who looks great with his shirt off and takes his head of the fraternity gig seriously (perhaps too seriously). Rogen’s Mac is a nice guy who loves his wife and baby but can’t decide whether he wants to shut down the party or join the party.
The one who benefits most though from this extra care in characterisation is Byrne’s Kelly. Usually the role of the nagging, responsible, ‘keeping her guy on track’ wife/mother, Byrne pretty much steals the film from her male co-stars as Kelly too wants more in her life than to play the straight (wo)man, and her manic energy and increasingly creative plans inject the film with likeability and fun. Fitting since it was director Nicholas Stoller who cast the usually dramatic Rose in his first directorial outing “Get Him to the Greek”, leading to her turn in “Bridesmaids” and now a certain future in comedy. While the film barely passes the Bechdel Test for women in film (not surprising since half of the cast is a fraternity), the successful reimagining of this character trope will hopefully inspire other screenwriters to be a bit more creative with their female love interest/leads.
Don’t get me wrong though, there’s still plenty of gross-out humour to be had.
The films keeps a surprisingly steady pace throughout given the inherent limitations of the plot, and doesn’t get too bogged down in third act doldrums. As Teddy comes to make peace that he will graduate and needs to make plans for life beyond the frat house, and Mac finally comes to a decision about whether he really wants to be part of the party life anymore, it may even resonate with an audience experiencing those same life decisions and inspire a reflection on the limits of extended adolescence. Or they’ll leave inspired to host a Robert De Niro party. Hmmm. Can’t it be both?
In any case, it’s a big call but I think this might be the funniest film to come out this year. Definitely worth a watch.
DVD : A couple of featurettes and a gag reel. Likely more on the Blu-ray.