From the beginning with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Nicholas Stoller showed a knack for creating good comedy within the space he was given. Carried on through Get Him to the Greek, Five Year Engagement and now Neighbors, the writer/director knows good comedy and is able to elicit it from the players involved whether it be consistent partner Jason Segel, a crazed Russell Brand or in this case, the former Disney hunk Zac Efron.
What Stoller is able to do best is mesh the absurd with the grounded, creating a beautiful mixture that brings out the heart but also leaves you on the floor rolling. In his largest risk yet, Stoller goes with this blend again with the absurd Efron playing against the grounded team of Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne but where he succeeded before with consistent jokes and laughter, he substitutes for a more contemplative look at getting older and the fear of moving on and growing up.
Neighbors follows married couple Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) who have just moved into their new home with their newly born baby. Domestic life is settling in for Mac, something that he thought he may resist more but actually becomes something (or at least something he thinks he has) accepted. Mac and Kelly try and rekindle their youthful days whether it be having sex on a chair in the dining room or taking the baby out to her first rave but in the end, the settlements of getting older seep in and they default back to where they don’t want to be,
Enter in Efron. Moving in next door to the couple is a fraternity led by the party hungry Teddy (Efron) and his faithful sidekick Pete (Dave Franco) look to create the perfect no-rules atmosphere and get their pictures up on the coveted wall of fame for the fraternity, thus creating the conflict between them and the married couple.
Neighbors is able to bring up many fine points about growing up and the resistance we have towards it even going as far as to show two different cases: the man child who is realizing that he has responsibilities now and must adhere to them (Mac) or the living large personality who never wants to come down from the high that he knows will only last for a short while (Teddy). But what Neighbors fails to do is give Teddy the full arc that he deserves. It is always hinted at throughout the film that everyone he hangs out with will be moving on to bigger things, including his pal Pete who is moving up in the architecture world, but we are never given that full moment of realization that maybe he should grow up too.
Mac fulfills his arc and by the end of the film he is a better dad and one that seems interested in the domestic life that he and Kelly have created for themselves but Teddy is left there for one last joke as he is found by Mac working at an Abercrombie & Fitch store as a topless model.
Maybe Stoller doesn’t want to dig deeper into the seeds of doubt that are growing inside of Teddy but it is a must more interesting avenue than giving just Mac is happy ending. The history with drugs aside with Efron, this arc is much more interesting to see him do as an actor and someone who finally has got that post-Disney hit he craved.
Either way, Neighbors is able to keep the laughs going even if they don’t hit as consistently as some of Stoller’s other work. Great comedic work by all the major players, especially Byrne, create a fun 96 minute movie that never really outlasts its welcome but also never fulfills the potential it was given.