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To be honest, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to “Neighbors.” After all, it seems like every other week, there’s a new “bro”-com out, with Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill or whatever, and if I really want to see something like that, all I have to do is turn on the TV and do a quick search and something of that nature’s bound to come up. Or better yet, I can save myself the trouble and watch the best the somewhat dubious subgenre has to offer and cut to the chase, i.e. “Animal House,” “Old School,” “I Love You Man,” et al.
But something told me this might be different, and not just because it handed the latest “Spider-Man” movie its spandex clad behind at the box office last week. You see, I adore Rose Byrne, and have always felt she had an inner wild child just waiting for the right place to spring. Of course, she’s best-known, and rightfully so, for her dramatic chops, notably the superlative TV show “Damages,” in which she more than held her own against the formidable Glenn Close, acting-wise.
But those of us who saw her in “Get Him to the Greek” knew that there was an inner comic just screaming to get out. The best thing in that otherwise mostly forgettable “bromedy,” Byrne went for broke as a Ke$ha/Britney type, and was nothing short of hilarious, especially to those of us who know her better for her more serious stuff. Sure, she was in the ladies’ equivalent of a “bromedy” (“chickedy”? “galpaledy”?), the massively-successful “Bridesmaids,” but it was as the straight woman to the rest of the crazy ladies in the leads.
Enter “Neighbors.” At first, you can’t help but be like: seriously? I’m supposed to believe that someone as insanely hot as Byrne would be married to, much less bear the dubious fruit of freaking Seth Rogen? Only in the movies, am I right? But once you get past that, you realize it’s a silly thing to get hung up on, because it’s only a movie, and that’s just how movies do. Besides, Byrne is so good an actress, I think she could sell pretty much anything you threw at her, regardless of how doubtful it might be IRL.
Anyway, if you like Byrne as an actress, you’re gonna want to see this. Byrne owns this movie. She doesn’t just go for broke, she’s goes for bust, literally and figuratively. (Wait until you see the breast milk-centric scene.) She’s just as foul-mouthed and reprehensible as her costars, and when your co-stars are Rogen and the born-to-douche-it-up Zac Efron and Dave Franco (a douche legacy, as the brother of James), that’s saying something.
Just to give you an indication of how great it is, there’s a scene early on, when Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) are lamenting their new Frat house neighbors- hence the title- and Byrne is just letting the curses fly fast & furious and even Rogen seems taken aback, warning her that if she keeps it up, their newborn child’s first word is going to be something vulgar. Let me say that again: Freaking Seth Rogen tells her to dial it down a notch. Awesome, right?
Astonishingly enough, women seem to love this movie. It’s done quite well with the ladies, and it’s no wonder why. Between Byrne’s foul-mouth and copious amounts of naked guys- the film easily has more male nudity than female, by at least a country mile, which seems about right for a Frat house, if we’re being honest- what’s not to like?
It may have a male-heavy cast, but they’re all abusing each other, while Byrne actively fans the flames by causing them to self-destruct with sexual jealousy (she makes out with another girl to get a rival amped up, then foists him off on her kissing partner, who just so happens to be the head of the frat’s GF- a big no no in a Frat), hilariously framing them for attacking a police officer, and pretty much exploiting every male insecurity every step of the way like a puppet-master. It’s pretty awesome, and completely believable.
I’m not gonna lie. Byrne’s character made the movie for me. She’s why I went in the first place and why I went home with a big smile on my face. For, you see, if a strong lead female character can exist in a movie like this, there may be hope for Hollywood yet. To paraphrase that old R&B chestnut: it’s a man’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman’s touch.
Beyond that, it’s fairly standard Frat movie high-jinks, but it is better than you might think from the trailers. For one thing, the Frat guys may be idiots, but they’re actually pretty relatable as human beings: when Pete (Franco) sleeps with Teddy’s (Efron) girlfriend, Teddy’s actually really hurt by it, but covers up with humor until it all comes out in an emotional scene at the end. Even if you’ve never been in that situation, it rings true here, and that’s saying something. It says to me that the writers actually put some thought into these characters beyond using them as an excuse to write copious amounts of dick jokes and the like.
Indeed, at any given time, I found myself either relating more to the Frat guys or the adults in turn. Some of the things the former does are bad, sure, but a lot of what the latter does is even worse. I mean, even after the Frat guys cooperate, they try to actively get them kicked out of the neighborhood, and that’s not exactly fair. The film gets that, and shifts your loyalties throughout the course of the film in clever ways, so the deck isn’t stacked more against one or the other. That’s a pretty neat trick and not one you necessarily expect from a film like this.
It would have been easy to make this a tossed-off improv-heavy riff fest, and true, there is a fair bit of that. But there’s also a working brain underneath it all, and that is more unexpected. As a result, you get a film that works on a lower, potty-mouth/brain level (i.e. the show-stopping dildo fight- yes, you read that right), but also on a more cerebral level. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.
So, Byrne may have put my butt in the seat, but bringing the heart along with the funny was what kept me there. As such, as it turns out, these are some “Neighbors” you might actually want to spend some time with. Go figure. Is it one of the all-time great Frat comedies? Maybe not, but then, the competition is stiff. But “Neighbors” doesn’t embarrass itself, and that’s saying something. It earns a solid B+ in my book for that alone.