SXSW 2014: “Neighbors” – Review by Daniel Rester

Left to right: Rebecca Feferman, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse; photo by Daniel Rester

SXSW 2014: Neighbors

Review by Daniel Rester

             Neighbors is the newest Seth Rogen-and-friends vehicle full of vulgarity and filthy humor. This one invites along people like Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, and Dave Franco to get in on the “frat party fun.” Usually Rogen’s comedic performances make me laugh quite a bit (especially Superbad (2007) and This is the End (2013)), but I feel that he, his company, and the newcomers have dropped the ball a bit on this one.

            The film has a simple setup: a couple (Rogen and Byrne) with a newborn baby must face craziness and fight back after they are forced to live next to a rambunctious fraternity house. The leader of the house is Teddy Sanders (Efron), a party-hard dude who will do anything to keep the frat alive. The other member roles are filled by Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Craig Roberts, and more.

            With little story or character development, Neighbors is essentially just a string of party gags, penis jokes, crude arguments, etc. I can deal with that as long as such humor hits its target continuously. Unfortunately, the comedy is hit-and-miss and the film lacks much of the cleverness and heart usually found in these Rogen comedies.

            Written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, and directed by Nicholas Stoller (who made the great Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)), Neighbors presents lazy comedic filmmaking for the most part. Cohen an O’Brien don’t really try to bring anything new to the frat party stage – unless moments of terrible parenting by Rogen and Byrne are a plus – and Stoller just seems to be on autopilot direction-wise. They do bring some energy and hilarity to a few scenes, and try to spice things up with music video-like editing at times, but the majority of the scenes fall flat. Perhaps Rogen and his collaborator Evan Goldberg should have stepped in for some re-writes in order to touch things up.

            What the film does have going for it is the cast and their chemistry. Rogen and Byrne are actually quite fun to watch together, while it is refreshing to see Efron step into something a bit different for him. Some of the individual moments between these actors and the others are terrific, but then those moments are surrounded by others that don’t work as well. For instance, there are some funny bits involving a Robert De Niro-themed party and a varied conversation on the idea of “bros before hos.” But then there are airless segments involving such things as penis molds for fundraising and human tit milking.

            While Neighbors is no Animal House (1978) or Old School (2003), it isn’t anything I hated either; I mostly felt indifferent towards it. The cast and a few jokes help keep it alive, but it also disappoints on many fronts. I just hope Rogen and his band of misfits get their A-game going again for their next comedic outing.

            At the SXSW screening I saw the film at, the filmmakers did admit that the film was a work in progress. It seemed, though, that only a few cuts and some sound editing needed to be worked on. So, I feel as if my opinion won’t change much once the final post-production things have been done.

 

Score: 2 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: C)  

 

Runtime: 1 hour and 43 minutes.

 

U.S. Release Date: May 9th, 2014.

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