Sunday, June 15, 2014

Neighbors (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


In what might have been a one joke film under less skillful hands, director Nick Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) comes up with a breezy and playful comedy that stays energetic throughout. 

Seth Rogen, this generation's Albert Brooks stars as Mac, a recent dad. He has just moved into an upscale neighborhood with his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne).

Everything seems rosy and green within the hedges until huge moving vans appear with the arrival of some towering Greek letters.

Alas, a frat house. Mac and Kelly fear the worst, immediately concerned about noise.

Not wanting to get off on the wrong  foot, they attempt to introduce themselves, equipped with a joint. After all, the last thing they want is to be judged as square.

Teddy (Zac Efron) accepts his neighbors affably enough with some condescension. He humors the couple and their over zealous and embarrassingly obvious slang.  

After some zany proceedings which lampoon Harmony Korine's recent  film "Spring Breakers" as well as other teen party films, Teddy makes Mac promise never to call the cops regarding noise.

Mac passively agrees.

The next night, a cacophony ensues. Mac leaves message after message, all for naught. Strung out and over-tired Mac calls the police thinking that he will remain anonymous.

The authorities bring Teddy to the couple's  door and Teddy is understandably hurt but lets on that things are status quo.

As time goes by however it is clear that things are far from pleasant.

Teddy is a near sociopath, driven to make life as upsetting as possible for the two parents.

As thin as the plot is, the events are fresh and believable with a charming and easy chemistry between Rogen and Byrne. 

Efron has a terrific role here as smarmy as he is clean-cut; he is both sneaky and alluring and there is just a sprig of dark humor which makes it work all the more.

The story makes a kind of parallel to John G. Avildsen's "80s film, Neighbors" starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. In that film, Aykroyd played Vic, an obnoxious "Ugly American" type who just couldn't leave Belushi's monotone character alone. Vic, like Teddy, was also unbalanced and prone to rages and volatile moods. In one scene, Vic shoots at Belushi with a rifle and is shown with Nazi literature. 

Whether intentional or not, Efron's character has some of that darkness here. Teddy is a kind of perpetual prep school kid---stunted, narcissistic and craving attention. His only goal: to have a party documented, photographed and put on the wall.

On the whole, "Neighbors" is a slightly dark extra chapter to Tv's  "Undeclared" or the film "Superbad" with Judd Apatow alumni Seth Rogen in his usual self deprecating bearish affability and Christopher Minz-Plasse appearing in the film as a frat baddie. 

Since Stoller has written for Apatow,  Apatow's glibly irreverent but ultimately good natured influence is felt throughout and this is all to the good. 

Once Rogen, Efron and Byrne get on tangents as adversaries there is no stopping this madcap, cyclic farce and the one liners never run away. Who else but Nick Stoller could make fighting with a dildo and Christmas lights funny?

As an Apatow-apostle comedy, the raunchiness is well in evidence, along with a lightness of being that comes when a young couple does the right thing.

And if this makes "Neighbors" a bit too predictable, consider Efron's Teddy as an eerie figure of body worship and partying. Forever encased in the arrogance of an Abercrombie Kid, it feels that Teddy alone will be left  bereft, ultimately isolated from the joys that are possible in being a married adult.

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