I Guess This Is Growing Up: Neighbors, Reviewed

Illustration for article titled I Guess This Is Growing Up: Neighbors, Reviewed

1. Neighbors is your typical Seth Rogen/Apatowian coming-of-age comedy, in which an overgrown manboy learns that he has to curtail his childish pursuits of weed, video games, and general irresponsibility to become a functional member of society. (They've now cranked out a decade's worth of movies about accepting adult life; the specter of impending death is gonna be rough on these guys.) Rogen plays a new father dealing with a fraternity that moves next door; the twist is that this time, he's the old guy, no matter how young he might feel. But the real innovation here is that the most interesting, compelling character in the film isn't a guy at all.


2. Rose Byrne is an actress I don't know well. She had the straight role in Bridesmaids, she screamed a lot (and looked frighteningly thin) in Insidious, she's sorta badass in 28 Weeks Later, and I'm told she's excellent on Damages, a TV show I've never watched. But she's the best thing about Neighbors by a country mile. She plays Rogen's wife, a brand-new mother adjusting to her new reality—sleepless nights, depressingly dull days, the need to "pump and dump" breast milk any time she has a few drinks—while dealing with her husband, a guy who thinks he's the only one struggling with sudden adulthood. Throughout the film, Byrne has to seduce college students, smoke a ton of weed, be "milked" when her breast pump breaks ("Do we get a pail or something?"), and convincingly pretend to enjoy sex with Seth Rogen on several occasions. She's hilarious at all of it, a true comedic find who grounds her character in a real place: A woman who wants to remain a kid herself, but is starting to realize that she has the power to control this new, foreign, adult world, and she needs to use it.

3. Much of the film is an ongoing battle scene between the new parents and the president of the new fraternity next door (they burned down their last house), played by Zac Efron with enough good humor to let you know he's in on the joke, but with nothing that quite approaches legitimate inspiration. (You want to pat Efron on the head for never being as bad as you feared he'd be.) As with any comedy of this sort, the stakes are raised by each increasingly irrational combatant, with the ultimate goal of forcing the exasperated dean (Lisa Kudrow, amusingly) to kick the frat off campus forever. Thus, Efron booby-traps the new parents' house and leaves condoms in their front yard; Rogen and Byrne invite thousands of people to the frat's parties and try to frame them for the local police. Some of this works, and some of it doesn't, but as always, the plot is just a framework for the jokes.

4. On the whole, Neighbors is consistently funny; the best moments tend to be throwaways. (I particularly enjoyed the rapport between Rogen and Byrne after they fail to have sex on the kitchen floor at the end of a drunken evening.) But the movie's growing-up theme can't help but have a little bit more resonance than usual, because the stakes are higher. In Knocked Up, you wondered if Rogen's character would ever wake up and put away the xBox. Here, the married couple is still dealing with the massive, irreversible change that comes with parenthood just as the next-door neighbors begin taunting them with their impossible youth. Meanwhile, Efron's fury toward the "old people" is heightened by his growing fear that this consequence-free life of his is finite, and before he knows it, he'll be the lame-ass telling those damn kids to keep it down. Everyone in this film is fighting off whatever is coming next, and failing.

5. It all ends, as it has to, with a big culminating party scene, which lays it on so thick that there's also a fight scene, several sex scenes, and, ultimately, actual fireworks. Neighbors has a hard time resolving its conflict, because there is no resolution other than old age and the illusion of maturity: The couple accepts that they're both old, Efron accepts that he needs to take life more seriously, and hey, look, there's a cute baby! This is fine, because the movie has enough laughs (and Byrne is such a joy to watch), but you can't help but wonder if the film's thesis—the people who can't grow up are suddenly the old farts—is the final, logical resting place for the Apotowian mindset. What could possibly be next? The middle-aged stoner refusing to pay into his 401k? The retired Gen Xer struggling to accept that he's a grandfather? I can't help but think that this string of movies will end with Rogen sharing a spliff with Death, playing Call of Duty for his soul. He'll lose. We all will.

Grade: B.

Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.


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