It would be reasonable to expect that this pastor/film critic with a fierce devotion to faith-based cinema would be loudly shouting out the virtues of family friendly comedy Moms' Night Out on the weekend that it opens opposite this much more widely released comedy from the same folks that brought us last year's unexpectedly awesome This is the End.
It would also be misguided.
While Moms' Night Out is nowhere near as bad as its 24 meta-rating from Metacritic would imply, the simple truth is that the naughtier, bawdier, and much funnier Neighbors is significantly more entertaining, far more inventive, and pretty close to exactly what audiences will be hoping to see as they enter the theater. The film opens with Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) moving into a picturesque suburban home with their new baby. While we're not exactly given a whole lot of plot to work with, it's clear from everything that goes on that the two are semi-firmly planted in that early parenting stage of constantly interrupted sex, far too little sleep, and lives that are long on obligation and short on recreation. What little tranquility they possess is found within their relatively peaceful suburban lifestyle, a lifestyle that gets majorly interrupted upon the arrival of a fraternity led by Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco).
Now then, you might be expecting that this turns into not much more than an "old farts vs. young whippersnappers" comedic adventure. I suppose, on some fundamental level you're absolutely right.
Neighbors is so much more.
Initially, the Radner's seem torn between the mature adults they've become and the slackers they want to be. A peaceful co-existence is initiated, served up partly by a sublimely assembled doobie (Hey, that's what they called it in my day!) and a hilarious faux coolness as Mac and Kelly head over to meet their new neighbors. The two even attend one of the frat's first parties, a larger than life affair than really doesn't begin to show just how wild everything is going to get before all is said and done. The Radners and the Fratners (Sorry, couldn't resist) reach an understanding that if things truly do get too loud and out of control that Mac will first call Teddy or Pete rather than the cops.
Um, yeah. That's going to work.
The very next night, the frat has an even louder and more out of control party and the frustrated Radners flush the agreement down the drain. While peace is eventually made and the police go on their merry way, the Radner's betrayal of their agreement sets off an increasingly outrageous one-upsmanship that pits neighbor against neighbor, family against frat.
The audience wins.
The audience wins because director Nicholas Stoller becomes a better filmmaker with each outing. With Neighbors, Stoller manages to make one of the very few comedies to actually concern itself with belly laughs from beginning to end. While I may be a sucker for a feel good ending or a sappy message, there's something refreshing about a well written comedy that doesn't let up on the laughs even as the closing credits start to roll.
The audience wins because D.P. Brandon Trost makes the lensing actually matter in a film where you might not expect that to be so. The parties, in particular, are inventively and awesomely photographed in a way that makes you watch the screen both in awe of Trost's work and aware that it's his camera work that's actually making you laugh even more.
The audience wins because the script from Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien manages to be relentlessly funny which, I've heard, is exactly what comedies are supposed to be. While we get surprisingly well developed characters, especially in a film where plot isn't exactly the point, Neighbors may very well be one of the most consistently funny films to be released since Bridesmaids or, yes, even This is the End.
The audience also wins because Neighbors is cast to absolute perfection from the major roles all the way down to brief yet memorable cameos by the likes of Andy Samberg, Jason Mantzoukas, Hannibal Burress and a host of others. I have a feeling this is the kind of film Rogen has been picturing when he finds himself tiptoeing into more dramatic efforts, because Neighbors has just the perfect touch of darkness to it that makes its comedy edgier and infinitely funnier. Rogen's Mac has just a touch of regret to him that adds a hint, and truly just a hint, of emotion that makes his actions funnier and more impactful.
If you've been unsure about Efron, who has shown more acting promise than anyone from the whole High School Musical thing, then this may very well be the film that wins you over because Efron is energized and inspired and just plain funny. The same is true for Dave Franco, whose performance moves him just a little bit more out of the shadow of a certain other Franco.
The film's true revelation may very well be Rose Byrne. Byrne isn't a household name, but unquestionably should be and may very well be after her scene-stealing performance here. She is perfectly cast alongside Rogen, but she comes pretty darn close to stealing just about every scene that she's in with the kind of downright brave comedic performance that should have just about every comedy director knocking on her door. There's not a weakness among the supporting players, but Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Craig Roberts (from the criminally underrated Submarine), and Ike Barinholtz are particularly strong here.
Neighbors most likely isn't for everyone. For example, if you do happen to think that Moms' Night Out is one of the best comedy films ever then I can almost guarantee you'll be mostly appalled by the absolutely R-rated comic stylings of Neighbors. If, however, you appreciate your comedy on the naughtier side of the comedy spectrum then it's hard to imagine it getting much better than Neighbors.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic