by Tony Dayoub
I've long been a fan of actor Seth Rogen, director Nicholas Stoller and just about anyone else that comes from the Judd Apatow school of comedy. Writer-produced Apatow himself does not appear to be directly involved with Rogen and Stoller's new film Neighbors. But it does evince the kind of hallmarks one would expect from an Apatow film: a wistfulness about attaining a certain stage of maturity; a focus on a mismatched couple that is more wish-fulfillment than reality, usually a schlubby guy with a nearly unattainable wife (not unlike Apatow and his beautiful wife Leslie Mann); and an ability to sneak in raunchy, gross-out humor in a fairly natural, often semi-improvisational manner.
Here Rogen's Mac Radner is married to the nearly unattainable Kelly (Rose Byrne), an Australian exchange student that stayed here long after graduating when the two became college sweethearts. Now married, they are reluctantly adjusting to the inconveniences of being parents to Stella, the cutest infant the cinema has ever seen. Their adjustment is made especially difficult by the fact that their respective best friends, Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo), have divorced each other and each reentered the singles scene. But that's nothing compared to the trepidation and envy they feel when Delta Psi Beta, a frat led by the fatuous Teddy (Zac Efron) and the only slightly brighter Pete (Dave Franco), move in next door.
Delta Psi's first loud party spurs Mac and Kelly to approach the guys about keeping the volume down, generously bringing some joints as a peace offering. Soon they are partying with Teddy, Pete and the rest of the brothers, sisters and pledges one raucous night at a blowout next door. Kelly dances in specific spots of the living room so that she can make sure her baby monitor doesn't lose reception. Mac swallows almost an entire bag of 'shrooms before debating Teddy over who was the finer actor to wear the Batman's cowl, Michael Keaton or Christian Bale (we all know it was Adam West... #amirite). It's all amusing and diverting enough to distract you for a while. The gorgeous Byrne and Efron are especially impressive, both jaw-droppingly up to the difficult task of keeping up with the hilarious Rogen and Barinholtz.
But there's a creeping staleness to Neighbors that smells suspiciously like formula, and not the baby kind. The timing of the jokes, the intrusion of a typically inane scene of inappropriateness (Kelly's lactating breasts seize up after a night of partying causes her to forget to pump or breastfeed), scenes of improvised comedic repetition (Pete and Teddy driving every possible rhyming extrapolation of the phrase "bros before hos" into the ground) all betray a growing, unwelcome familiarity in Neighbors rhythms that is the antithesis of comic spontaneity. It may finally be time for these filmmakers to leave Apatow's trademarks behind, before familiarity breeds... well, you know how it goes.