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‘Neighbors’ offers inappropriate laughs

POSTED: May 8, 2014 1:05 a.m.

“Neighbors” is the next big comedy of the summer season and pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a movie co-starring Seth Rogen and Zac Efron.

For a while, it appears to be an insightful comedy about the difficulties of entering the parental stage of life.

Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are typical 20-something new parents, attempting to be responsible without completely losing their ability to be spontaneous and fun.

Many things about their lives will ring true for viewers in similar phases of life. One evening after Mac has worked all day while Kelly watched the baby, they get a call from a friend (Carla Gallo) inviting them to go to a club. They miss having a social life, but now have the baby to worry about. So they debate about whether to try to find a babysitter at the last minute or take the baby with them. Sure, taking the baby to a club is an absurd idea, but it’s merely an exaggeration of the conflicting desires a lot of young parents experience.

Everybody wants to cling to their youth and independence even after having a child, but there is no escaping the reality that our priorities must change.

Nor can Mac and Kelly escape the changes parenthood and age bring to intimacy and sex. There is a sweet moment when Mac and Kelly lie down in bed — each wearing a mouth guard — and turn to give each other a kiss. The mouth guards bump, creating the most unromantic kiss imaginable.

These early scenes wring laughs out of situations to which many will relate.

Then a fraternity moves in next door, which is the real inciting event, and the movie quickly devolves into a run-of-the-mill, raunchy comedy as the neighbors engage in a series of battles. Mac and Kelly try to run the loud frat boys out of the neighborhood, and the boys respond by going on the offensive.

Mac’s counterpart, Teddy (Zac Efron), is the president of his fraternity and is struggling to move from one stage of life to the next. In a way, Mac embodies Teddy’s future, a scenario with which the writers could have played much more. But Teddy’s struggles are portrayed in superficial, predictable ways. And it’s difficult to feel sorry for a kid who is given every social and economic advantage, yet drinks them away.

Rather than using any of this story fodder to do something unique, “Neighbors” becomes a series of penis jokes and pratfalls.

Some of the physical comedy is very funny, especially a bit with automobile air bags. But Mac and Teddy don’t place only each other in danger, they also put the baby in danger. Even in a comedy, that’s just not funny.

In its attempt to be edgy, the movie steps over the line of bad taste in numerous ways. There are undertones of homophobia and sexism, and a black police officer (Hannibal Buress) is made to look perverted and stupid.

I don’t want to overstate these points because frankly, “Neighbors” is not worth the energy of feeling offended. But some people will undoubtedly find it offensive. Because of those elements I doubt this movie will appeal to anyone but young white men.

The movie offers exactly two things for female viewers. Byrne continues to surprise viewers with her comedic talents, and a couple of scenes focus on the difficulties of motherhood. But she is the only significant female character in the film.

Gallo’s character barely factors into the story and gets no big laughs. And no time is spent on female relationships at all.

Female viewers likely will enjoy seeing Efron go shirtless for much of the movie. Efron makes Matthew McConaughey seem downright Victorian, and there is no denying the young man’s, ahem, talents.

“Neighbors” is inappropriate, often funny and does nothing to stand out from all of the other comedies in its crude, sophomoric fraternity.

Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.


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