Halfway into Neighbors, a group of chest-thumping bros hosts a yard sale to raise cash for their fraternity. They are not peddling antiques. They are not selling lemonade. They are selling dildos — personalized dildos, hot off the press, molded in the exact shape and size of their own penises.
That’s what you get when you see Neighbors: an eyeful of dildos, made by a cluster of hard-partying college kids with names like “Scoonie” and “Assjuice.” You get a film brimming with indecent ideas, imagery, and language. You also get a film with a heart bigger than Scoonie’s legendary manhood.
That’s what you get when you see Neighbors: an eyeful of dildos.
Already contending with a quietly complicated life, Mac and Kelly find themselves faced with an entirely unexpected and unwelcome challenge when Delta Psi Beta — a local college frat and the self-proclaimed inventors of beer pong and the boot-and-rally — moves in next door. Teddy Sanders, Delta Psi’s impossibly beautiful and brainless president, graduates at the end of the semester, and he has one goal in mind before then: throwing the biggest rager the world has ever seen.
Needless to say, Teddy’s interests do not align with Mac and Kelly’s. After some mutual attempts at a friendly coexistence, an ill-advised noise complaint drives an irrevocable rift between Delta Psi and the Radners, prompting an all-out war destined to end in fireworks.
The rivalry starts out innocently enough. But harmless hijinks like Robert De Niro themed parties and bizarre bush trimming quickly escalate with deadlier tactics, like flooded basements, relationship sabotage, and airbag warfare. The ways that Delta Psi and the Radners continuously attempt to one-up each other gets increasingly disgusting and brutal as the movie progresses.
But through the filth shines a soul — which shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering Neighbors was directed by Nicholas Stoller, the same man who wrote The Muppets, and the same filmmaker who also molded Jason Segel’s full-frontal nudity in Forgetting Sarah Marshall into one of the most heart-aching and surprising scenes in recent comedy history. Stoller has an inimitable way of finding warmth and vulnerability in the most absurd situations imaginable. Without Stoller’s humanizing vision, Neighbors would be little more than a series of gags strung together.
Of course, it helps that Neighbors boasts such an incredible cast of hilarious human beings. There are seasoned comedy pros, like Seth Rogen as Mac; he does his usual thing, and doesn’t need to do much more. But there are strong newcomers here as well, like Craig Roberts as the aforementioned Assjuice, a character that brings Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s star-making turn in Superbad to mind. (The erstwhile McLovin is part of the Delta Psi crew as Scoonie, fittingly enough.) Even the smallest of side-characters make an impact, thanks to some surprising and delightful cast choices.
But there are three performers who absolutely make Neighbors, beginning with Rose Byrne. The Australian actress, best known for dramatic roles like her Emmy-nominated turn on FX’s Damages, proved herself in the comedy arena with 2011’s Bridesmaids, holding it down and then some opposite hilarious heavyweights Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. Turns out, Bridesmaids wasn’t a fluke. Byrne has impeccable comedic timing in Neighbors, especially during one “covert ops” scene in which she attempts to pit the frat brothers against each other. With Neighbors, Byrne cements herself as one of the most talented and versatile actors working today, comedic or otherwise.
And then there’s the power duo of Zac Efron and Dave Franco. Efron plays Teddy, a brick-brained bro-to-the-max, with a physique that will discourage all male viewers in attendance from ever again removing their shirts; there’s no need to compete. Franco, meanwhile, plays Delta Psi vice president Pete, a softhearted student with a secret super-power. (Spoiler: it’s in his pants.) Efron and Franco are hilarious, if a bit over the top, on their own. Together, however, they create one of the best on-screen bromances since Jonah Hill and Michael Cera in Superbad. It’s no surprise with Franco, who made his comedy chops abundantly clear in 21 Jump Street. But here, Efron finally shakes off his High School Musical reputation, and it’s glorious — not to mention pretty disturbing.
Who knows how Neighbors will hold up in the years to come. Perhaps there are a few too many Walter White, Game of Thrones, and Batman references to truly stand the test of time. Right now, in 2014, it’s relentlessly funny and of-the-moment. It’s gross; it’s vulgar; and it’s not for the faint of heart. But it does have heart. Plenty of it, in fact, thanks to Stoller and his stellar cast. If nothing else, Neighbors is one of the best movie parties of the year — something that Teddy would surely be proud of.
(Media © Universal Studios)