Neighbors isn’t just the frat-versus-suburbia comedy the marketing has promised. This is dark, dangerous stuff, and arguably the ballsiest and dirtiest studio comedy since Observe and Report (also starring Seth Rogen, natch). Like The Wolf of Wall Street, it’s the sort of movie filled with awful behavior that can be too easily construed as endorsed by the filmmakers.
What it really functions as is a biting satire of modern parenting, the extremity of college life, the tyranny of American misogyny and the scary intersection where it all collides. It’s a comedy where the protagonists aren’t above deception, recreational drug use and reckless property damage to get a point across.
With a few keystrokes, Rogen and the hilarious Rose Byrne’s burned out new parents, Mac and Kelly, would be combating Delta Psi in the guise of a “neighbors from hell” thriller from the early 90’s a la Pacific Heights or The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. Their charm makes it lighter but the chaos is pitch black.
And I’ll just lay it out here right now: Zac Efron is fucking brilliant in this. He is the breakout performance, the high point, the character that incoming teenagers and twentysomethings will idolize for the wrong reasons. Going back to The Wolf of Wall Street, Efron’s role is very much like what Leonardo DiCaprio did as Jordan Belfort, and his frat ringleader Teddy is effectively Belfort if he’d skipped business class to watch Old School on a loop. The only thing charming about him is his chiseled physique and hypnotic blue eyes; he bears a strong resemblance to a young Rob Lowe. Beneath that is the villain of the piece, and one of the best comedic acting jobs of recent memory. Just a few years ago I’d never have envisioned him as able to pull off a role like this. Now, he’s as much of a Disney star as Kurt Russell.
He is a human rollercoaster of sociopathic hedonism, an abider of “bros before hos” and unwilling to allow anything less than the opposite of wholesome in the way of his boys, which include memorable turns from Dave Franco (whose moment dressed as Robert De Niro’s cat-clutching Meet the Parents character is even funnier than you think it’d be from the trailers) and a not-so-McLovin Christopher Mintz-Plasse.
This movie is going to be huge and I fucking loved it. There are images here that will linger past being just a comedy. I got the comedy I paid for. The culture clash is the sweet stuff and the best part. And it’ll absolutely grow on repeat viewings.