REVIEW: Neighbors

12 08 2014

If you’re Zac Efron, how do you get people to take you seriously as an actor?  See you as something more than a Disney Channel star without feeling yourself with a foam finger half-naked on television?  Treat you as something more than a Google Images search?

Taking a page from the Channing Tatum/”21 Jump Street” playbook, Efron took on a role in “Neighbors,” a comedy where his entire archetype of the ultra-macho pretty-boy is a consistent butt of jokes.  The arrangement works out well for everyone.  Those who choose to watch the movie will enjoy the self-parody of Efron’s relentless shirtlessness and his over-the-top portrayal of a self-deluded frat lord.  And those fans who just want another look at Efron’s chiseled figure are indulged in the process.

Initially, Efron didn’t seem to be meshing with his character, Delta Psi Beta president Teddy Sanders.  Perhaps I was expecting him to fit a certain model of the fraternity meathead that I knew, but it’s clear that “Neighbors” knows what it’s doing with him.  There’s pretty consistent and purposeful fetishization of Efron throughout the film, by Seth Rogen’s older and squarer Mac as well as within his own fraternity.  The desire for a firm bond with him is laced with some homoerotic undertones and really provides some interesting commentary on the kind of brotherhood fostered within fraternities.

Teddy’s relationship with Dave Franco’s Pete Regazolli, another high-ranking Delta Psi officer out to preserve his legacy, provides ample hilarious opportunities to analyze the implications of the bromance.  One particular exchange of rhyming affirmations of their friendship, which sounds like something potty-mouthed teenaged girls would exchange in gym, sounds so preposterous that it’s clear “Neighbors” does not intend for its portrayal of fraternity life to be taken at face value like “Animal House.”


Most of the other jokes in “Neighbors” lack the subversive angle that it applies to Delta Psi.  That’s not to say that the film’s big humor pieces aren’t funny; they’re just rather obvious.  It doesn’t help that if you’ve seen any of the marketing materials, you know several of the film’s aces in the hole.  One unexpected strength of the film are the impeccably well shot party scenes, particularly the one in neon that pulls inspiration from the same source as “Spring Breakers,” Gaspar Noé’s “Enter the Void.”

Thankfully, as Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne’s family defends themselves from Efron’s fraternity house encroaching on their sanity, director Nicholas Stoller grants us some candid moments where they get to flex their comedic muscle.  While Rogen is riotous per usual, it’s Rose Byrne who really steals the show.  (This comes as no surprise to anyone who saw “Get Him to the Greek.”)  She gets some of the best lines, and her off-the-cuff remarks always seem to elicit some laughs.  Even with her strong presence, it’s still a boy’s world in “Neighbors” – though at least there’s some rationale to why that’s the case.  B2halfstars



One response

12 08 2014

I laughed plenty during this. But when it wanted to show off its heart, it actually felt realistic and hardly ever tacked-on. Not like other comedies out there. Good review.

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