Nicholas Stoller, the ever-reliable director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him To The Greek and The Five Year Engagement has collaborated with producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, This is the End) and first-time screenwriters Andrew. J Cohen and Brendan O’Brien for Bad Neighbours. A potential future classic, this vulgar, hilariously out-of-control adult comedy of suburban war and mayhem, generation difference and general misbehaving sees new-dad Seth Rogen and Frat-king Zac Efron learn a thing or two about ‘growing up’. It might make you feel guilty for laughing, and yet the laughs never let up.
Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Rose Byrne) have just had their first child and moved into a new neighbourhood. While still coming to grips with their strictly structured and social-free lifestyle – Kelly remains at home with her baby monitor glued to her hand while Mac works a dreary office job – they are nonetheless excited by their new addition to the family. But, they start to face further unexpected difficulties following the establishment of a fraternity house, ruled by President Teddy (Efron) and VP Pete (Dave Franco), in the adjacent residence. Mac and Kelly decide to approach the youths dressed ‘hip’, bringing along a peace offering and making warm introductions. In-turn they are invited to the house-warming party, with Mac and Teddy bonding the morning after on a comedown from mushrooms. But, after the fraternity’s excessive parties rouses a 911 call the relationship soon turns sour and an intense conflict ensues. The frat-pack takes pleasure in continually harassing the couple, but with the help of Mac’s colleague Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) they elaborately retaliate in an attempt to have peace returned to the neighbourhood.
Bad Neighbours is crammed with laughs, which spawn from cleverly conceived set pieces and consistently recur in surprising ways. It is irresponsible, uncivilized and downright nasty on occasions. Simply, it is all sorts of inappropriate, and likely to offend everyone at some point. But, it successfully transcends generations and strikes a pretty accurate portrait of the fraternity lifestyle and it’s part in the path to adulthood, and a young family dealing with not only baby-related chaos, but also with collegiate delinquents embracing a life they have long left behind and somewhat frustratingly cannot return to.
There are scenes that run on longer than necessary (to include alternates that could have been left as outtakes, but were funny enough to warrant inclusion) but it still comes in under 100 minutes. This brevity is welcomed, and the barrage of inventive jokes and gags come from a range of effective sources. The party sequences are large-scale and spectacularly choreographed and captured, the design of the frat house a real feat.
Rogen and Byrne feel completely natural as a couple, together grappling the highs and lows of young parenthood, and coming to embrace how their priorities have changed. Their attempts to spice up their sex life are repeatedly and amusingly foiled, and they continue to surprise each other with their extreme ideas for revenge against Teddy. They want to maintain an illusion of ‘cool’ but feel like they have to uphold their perceived extra level of maturity and a sense of responsibility. Not everyone embraces Rogen’s brand of humour, but the loud-mouthed man-child antics, marijuana jokes and admirable physical immodesty are all there. It works so well. Rose Byrne, who has extraordinary acting range, is a comedy natural. If this were just Rogen v. Efron, it would still be very funny, but Byrne is responsible for elevating (and stealing) scenes all on her own. Efron, whose charisma has rarely been better used, is perfect in a villainous role he seems to be born to play. Efron’s ‘features’ are the source of a joke from beginning to end with his introduction accompanied by Mac admitting he might be the ‘sexiest guy he has ever seen’. Despite his intense partying and relentless sabotage of the neighbourly peace, Efron manages to draw empathy where due.
There are many situations that are unashamedly silly and rely on suspension of disbelief, but there is a surprising poignancy to it all. Rogen and Byrne, after all of their partying and irresponsible behaviour, desire a return to the lives they have briefly left behind, and come to realize just how content they are with it. Similarly, the relationship between Efron and Franco has surprising complexity. Franco, naturally bright and destined for success, is quick to let the frat goals become a secondary priority to his studies and job-hunting, but Efron, who has flunked college, doesn’t have a plan and is afraid that his future will resemble Mac’s. While the bros find themselves bitter opponents, orchestrated by Mac and Kelly, their friendship endures it all.
Via competent writing, confident direction and excellent performances, Bad Neighbours is a success. It ratchets the boundaries of studio comedy up several notches, racking up countless memorable moments you will want to share with others.
Andrew Buckle – follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22