Hammering Out... Neighbors

Hammering Out... Neighbors

Hammering Out... is a series of movie reviews featuring a lively he said/she said discussion between John and Julie.  This week: NEIGHBORS.

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JOHN: This summer promises to be a good one for the R-rated comedy.  With so many superhero films and sequels clogging the release schedule, the R-rated comedy is like the last bastion of originality.  Enter Neighbors.  While not exactly "original" - it is, after all, a frat comedy at heart - it does pair two appealing leading men (Seth Rogen and Zac Efron) and allows them both to play to their strengths.  The concept is fresh and appealing (Family vs. Frat), the script makes some interesting points about fighting to reclaim your youth, and Rose Byrne brings some much needed feminine comedic energy to what is otherwise a boy's club.

I just wish it had been funnier.  That's what really matters with any comedy, right?  The trailer for Neighbors was fantastic, and for good reason. It spoils all the best jokes in the movie.  Sure, there's some R-rated gags involving lactation and homemade dildos, that didn't make the trailer, but they don't inspire much laughs in the final product.  The best stuff is lower-key: Efron and Rogen sitting on a couch having a conversation as Michael Keaton Batman (Rogen) and Christian Bale Batman (Rogen), Efron and fellow frat brother Pete (Dave Franco) engaging in an extended riff on "bros vs. hos", etc.

Glad to see Efron make the most of his Bradley Cooper-like charms here.  As easy as it is to make Efron and his frat brothers one-note idiots, the filmmakers  are much smarter than that - there's more to Efron's Teddy than meets the eye.  Rogen is his typical self, and though a bit miscast (his onscreen persona still reads more frat guy than family man), he quickly gets the audience on his side.  But, the real MVP is Byrne.  As she proved in Bridesmaids and Get Him to the Greek, she has comic chops to spare and keeps up with Rogen rather impressively.

What'd you think?  Funny enough to warrant a $49 million first place opening?  Should we rejoice that a movie like this can knock a movie like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 off the charts?  And, how shocked are you that Judd Apatow had nothing to do with Neighbors?

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JULIE: I will start by answering your questions. 1) Yes, I think we should rejoice that this movie took the #1 box office spot away from Spidey. Hooray for originality besting a warmed-over CGI reboot no one asked for ! 2) I am not shocked that Judd Apatow had nothing to do with Neighbors because this didn't feel like a Judd Apatow movie. Say what you will about Apatow's movies, they always have heart and they always have a deeper insight into what's happening with the main characters.

That, for me, was the missing piece. Neighbors lacks perspective. It lacks theme. You're right that it just wasn't funny enough, but I would've been willing to give the film a pass if I had felt more of a connection to the characters and their plights. There were kernels of "going there." They liked to show Rose Byrne looking sad about being home with the kid, but the writers never really dealt with her ennui (and she spent half the movie away from the baby and not really caring where was and who was watching her, so I'm not sure why she was such a dedicated parent during the day while her husband was at work). They wanted us to think that Seth Rogen was this responsible dad who has no fun, but there he is getting high at work. There was no real resolution for Zac Efron's character. They started to figure it out -- that he was this college kid who really didn't care about anything outside the frat -- but when the movie ended, he was still basically that guy...without the frat.

Stepping away from what I wished I had seen to what I actually did see, there wasn't a lot new here. Maybe I've just become too desensitized to gross out/drug humor, but most of the gags here felt like warmed over imitations of stuff I've seen before.

But, contrary to how this review reads, I didn't hate the movie. I definitely laughed out loud a few times. I appreciated that Rose Byrne's character wasn't a stick-in-the-mud shrew. I enjoyed seeing Dave Franco on the big screen. I'm just disappointed that this movie didn't live up to its promise or my expectations.

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JOHN: Good point about the baby.  Who the hell was watching the baby for most of the movie?  Maybe we're thinking too hard about it.  I guess it doesn't matter but it does sort of take any normal viewer out of the movie.  That baby is super cute though - talk about a scene stealer.

I think you're right about the movie "going there" but not quite getting there.  I never bought the whole "young couple who have settled down but still want to be cool" subplot, as much as I might like it on paper.  Again, some of that might be the casting of Rogen, but some of it may also be director Nicholas Stoller's  (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) fear of boring the audience.  On that note, and if we're going to keep laying into the movie, I also had an issue with the escalation of the central conflict.  Rather than build at a believable, measured pace, the conflict goes from 0 to 11 in a  second, and we're going straight to airbags in chairs.

I find it curious that you're such a fan of Dave Franco.  The guy does nothing for me, but at least he gets a chance to pull off a pretty rad DeNiro in Meet the Parents impression.  Ha, I did love the idea of a bunch of frat bros staging a DeNiro character costume party, only for some of them to confuse the actor and dress as a Pacino character instead.  That's good stuff.

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JULIE: The many DeNiros was a good scene, and I liked the joke. Ha! Young people know nothing about Robert DeNiro! I don't know what it is about Dave Franco, but I enjoy his presence. And now that his brother is turning out to be such a lech, maybe he's filling the Franco void.

Watching the movie, Rogen didn't bother me that much; but after you mentioned it, I can't unsee it. He's not right for this kind of role. He could be, sure. He's a decent enough actor. But, for some reason, The Powers That Be have decided that Seth Rogen must be Seth Rogen in every movie. It's going to get old soon, and he's going to have to start stretching himself at some point. And then he'll become all super serious and he'll try to win an Oscar, or he'll become a father and will start making only crappy family movies. It's the comedic movie actor fork in the road. There's no escaping it.

Also, as a parent, I feel like the people who made this movie have never been around babies before. That baby was a complete angel the entire time. She never cried at inopportune times. And she was way too old (and way too awake and way too aware) for her parents to be blatantly having sex in front of her in broad daylight (at least that's my opinion). However, the swollen boobs were right on. I definitely had flashbacks to the pain of needing to nurse but not being able to nurse during that scene.

So, what do you give Neighbors?

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JOHN: Well, rest easy.  I don't think Rogen will ever go the super serious route anytime soon.  And, while sex in front of the baby may have been a bit of a stretch, Rogen's inability to perform after getting drunk certainly rings true.  Okay, I think I've said all I want about Neighbors.  It's good and entertaining enough, but not the R-rated comedy hit that will define this summer.  I'm looking for 22 Jump Street to fill that void.  Or Let's Be Cops.  Really, anything other than Tammy at this point.  I'll give Neighbors *** out of 5 stars.  You?

JULIE: On the Mindy Project character scale from Betsy the nurse to Danny Castellano, I give Neighbors a Morgan Tookers, mostly because the actor who plays him is in this movie.

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