Starring: Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express), Zac Efron (Hairspray), Rose Byrne (X-Men: First Class), Dave Franco (21 Jump Street), Ike Barinholtz (The Mindy Project), Lisa Kudrow (Easy A)
Director: Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall)
Writers: Andrew Jay Cohen & Brendan O’Brien
Runtime: 1 hour 36 minutes
Release Date: 3 May (UK), 9 May (US)
The frat house comedy is a subgenre that just never dies. Ever since John Landis kick-started the trend with Animal House, every couple of years there comes along a movie that tries to become its generation’s Animal House. Revenge of the Nerds, Van Wilder, Old School, the list goes on. So how does Bad Neighbours (or just Neighbors as it is called in the US, changed overseas likely to avoid confusion with a certain Australian soap opera) fare against such a wide fair of similar offerings? Does it pass the test and join the fraternity, or is this one pledge that’s going to chicken out?
Bad Neighbours is a breath of fresh air for the genre mainly because it views the proceedings from a fresh perspective. The film is primarily from the point of view of the sensible adults for once but without making them look like spoilsports. They call out the frats on their behaviour, but they also get in on the fun every once in a while and even end up doing some devious stuff themselves. But that’s not to say that the frats themselves are one-dimensional obnoxious twats, no sir. Their perspective is painted with just enough sympathy that you never hate them completely even when they go over the line. The film manages to strike a good balance between the two sides, never making either one seem too despicable whilst still making both of them funny and entertaining. The story even manages to have morals better written than most comedies of this ilk, with Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne’s characters learning to be responsible adults without becoming curmudgeons, and Zac Efron coming to realise that his life as a party animal is coming to a close. It’s effort like this that makes Bad Neighbours that much more entertaining and not just a lazy hodgepodge of sex and stoner gags.
Seth Rogen may not have much range as an actor, but he’s dependable and always worth a few laughs. He is playing a somewhat more responsible character with a job, a wife and a kid on his shoulders, but he’s still the pot-smoking dunderhead we’ve all come to love. His chemistry with Byrne is surprisingly good, working off each other both comedically and emotionally well enough that I bought them as a couple. Zac Efron, much like Rogen, has also been somewhat typecast as the pretty boy for most of his career and he’s always been, somewhat unfairly, thrashed about. Sure, he was in those High School Musical movies, but every other Hollywood teen crush was in a similar position at some point in their careers. Efron has proven himself to be a pretty decent actor at points (see the criminally underrated Me & Orson Welles for proof of that), and in Bad Neighbours he both transcends expectations and does well doing so. He manages to be everything you want from a stereotypical bro-douche, but imbues his role with enough character and motivation that he comes off like a somewhat real person and not someone you want to punch in the face, and he even plays off against Rogen startlingly well. It’s the most surprising comedic turn I’ve seen from an actor since Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street, and I’d be happy to see him continue in this fashion. The rest of the cast works but don’t get a lot of focus. Dave Franco is pretty good; especially when opposite Efron (a scene where they exchange plentiful variations of the “bros before hoes” mantra is a particularly good moment). Ike Barinholtz also gets some good laughs, but everyone else just comes and goes. Lisa Kudrow is relegated to two brief scenes, Submarine’s Craig Roberts melds into the background for half the movie before being given something to do, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse feels completely wasted. His subplot with Barinholtz and Carla Gallo is seriously underdeveloped and mostly pointless. Why even hire McLovin if you’re not going to do anything with him?
Comedies aren’t usually where you go looking for a technical extravaganza, but Bad Neighbours does manage to look a bit more distinctive. The party scenes in particular look great, with lots of neon and pastels flying around to give these sections a different feel to the rest of the movie. Brandon Trost has become one of my favourite cinematographers lately, and he again proves he can make anything look cool. This is the guy who shot Crank 2, what else would you expect?
Bad Neighbours works because it puts in far more effort than you’d expect. It’s got all the laughs you want from a frat house comedy, but sweetens the deal with a well-conceived screenplay, relatable human characters, and excellent performances to carry it all. It’s not exactly revolutionary, but it is a lot of fun.
FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10