Seth Rogen’s movies have had a tendency to confound my expectations. Every time I see a teaser or trailer for whatever whacky comedy he’s working on, my initial reaction to it is usually not very positive. The jokes don’t seem particularly clever and are all based around stoner humor, sexual content, and cheap slapstick. Then I actually watch the movie…and sometimes I really like it. Other times it’s just alright. I can’t say that I’ve seen all of his films, but from what I’ve seen so far, none of the movies he was in ever put me off, and that’s a pretty good accomplishment. When “okay” is your worst, that’s no sign of failure. Last week I ended up going to see Neighbors after being invited along with some of my friends from work, but this time I didn’t go into it with any expectations. I’d seen a little about it online and on TV but had not really experienced any strong direct advertising for it. How did it turn out? Here’s my take on it.
(No spoilers this week.)
Let’s start with the acting. If you’ve seen Knocked Up, Superbad or Bridesmaids, you’ve seen these performances before. It’s pretty straight-forward and believable as it can be for a screwball comedy. None of the actors say or do anything that’s going to leave a lasting impression or give you anything to quote, but they all do well enough to make you believe that they’re real characters acting accordingly in the universe they occupy. I’m normally not very fond of Zac Efron, but I was able to tolerate him here because his role is self-aware of the perception of him in reality.
All sunshine and rainbows…until he speaks
Part of the reason why this movie, a lot like the others I mentioned earlier, feel spontaneous and reasonably realistic is because the film feels like it wasn’t scripted. The screenwriters I’ve spoken to seem to be a bit torn on this approach. Those who praise it because it places more creative control in the actors’ hands and allows them to tell the basic parts of the story off-the-cuff. Those who are critical of it find it to be laziness on the writers’ part and can deviate too far off the mark.
Even good actors under good directors are capable of this mistake.
There are examples of this practice faltering at various points of the movie. One scene involves two characters coming up with as many different ways of saying “bros before hoes.” I’m not kidding. This goes on for several minutes…or at least it felt like it. I just knew when watching this scene that the director wanted to insert “bros before hoes” somewhere in the conversation, and when it got there, he told his actors to make up as many variations on that phrase as they could imagine. It began to look like a series of outtakes that somehow were forgotten to be removed. I couldn’t laugh at it because it wasn’t very funny to begin with, and even if it was, the joke went on for way too long and lost its flavor quickly.
The story wasn’t bad, just predictable. Again, if you’ve seen movies of this style, you’ve seen the tropes before. There’s a misunderstanding from the romantic couple that gets resolved a bit too easily and without much build-up or consequence. The doofy lead male actor is paired up with a beautiful actress. The feuding parties continue to escalate the situation to a point where they each go too far. Everything gets wrapped up in the end in a nice neat bow with a tacked-on message that wasn’t properly established earlier but didn’t matter because it was so painfully obvious from the beginning. Again, these facets of the story weren’t handled badly. The story was fairly solid and didn’t really have any gaping plot holes. It just wasn’t very challenging.
But that was kind of the point of this movie. Neighbors wasn’t trying to push beyond simple comedy to something with a little more to say like Dr. Strangelove or Blazing Saddles. It’s a movie that you don’t have to think too hard about and gives you a few good laughs, although without much effort. The jokes might makes you laugh, but sometimes play them a little too close to the lowest common denominator. If a baby putting a condom in its mouth, a fraternity making molds of their penises to sell as dildos or misquoting Robert De Niro movies makes you laugh, you’ll probably find this movie hilarious.
You talkin’ about me?
I wish I could say more about it, but that’s pretty much all there is. It’s an average comedy with a few clever moments but nothing that separates it from the pack. There are a few more laugh-out-loud moments than there are groaners, but as I already said, nothing about it is really memorable. If you’re looking for a fun distraction for an hour and a half, this isn’t a bad way to spend it. If you’re looking for the kind of movie that is going to give funny material to tell your friends, you might have a harder time with this one.