Frat movies don’t generally get much respect, often because they’re more concerned with bacchanalia than believability. Even the best ones, like National Lampoon’s Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, or Old School, ultimately turn into competitions against rival frats or wars with crusty deans.
Neighbors, the new movie from director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek), cleverly avoids falling into frat traps by not — despite its outward appearances — actually being a frat movie. It’s about something much deeper than that.
Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are a young, married couple and the first-time parents of an infant daughter. They marvel at how tiring everything about parenthood is and check their baby monitor more frequently than their cell phones. Their busy but content lives are interrupted when a frat moves in next door.
Trying to avoid being “uncool,” they party with the boys on their first night in the house and ask the frat brothers, led by Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco), to just try and keep the noise levels down. The next night, when the blasting music is keeping their daughter up all night, Mac and Kelly call the cops, igniting a war between the brothers and the parents.
Neighbors gives audiences the same competitive thrills and escalating stakes as most other frat movies, but ingeniously does it by making the frat brothers the enemies instead of the heroes. Moreover, Neighbors uses the frat situation merely as a catalyst for a story that is, at its heart, about men’s fear of growing up. (Mac misses being an immature kid, which the prank war lets him tap back into; Teddy is afraid of what his meaningless life will hold after college and uses Mac as a target for his frustrations.)
All the cleverness in the world wouldn’t be enough to make the movie soar, if it weren’t also hilarious. Thankfully, Neighbors is the funniest movie in months. There’s no denying that a number of the otherwise funniest moments of the film have already been given away — frankly, the fewer trailers and commercials you’ve seen for Neighbors, the better — but the movie is stuffed with outrageously funny moments, gags, and one-liners. A few scenes or jokes fall flat, but far more succeed than fail.
The movie’s not perfect. Tertiary characters, like Teddy’s girlfriend or Mac’s boss, come and go as the script needs them, and a few of the plot elements require a large suspension of disbelief. Ultimately, though, its layered writing, hilarious performances, and whimsical randomness still make Neighbors the outright funniest comedy so far this year.