“Neighbors” delivers dry comedy, but unique characters

Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Trailers are notorious for being misleading. You think a movie is going to be good — until you are 30 minutes into the movie and it is too late for a refund. The first trailer for Nicholas Stoller’s new film, “Neighbors,” aired in September, and I was led to believe that the film was your run-of-the-mill party movie with a slew of back-and-forth slapstick prank comedy that I would gladly overlook.

I entered the movie theater expecting something among the likes of “American Pie,” “Project X” or “21 and Over,” where the film is packed with beautiful women, party sequences and random senseless comedy. All of the above are present, but the film goes much deeper and was strangely enjoyable. Although the comedy was played out by a long marketing campaign, the film contained likable characters played by capable actors.

The film opens with a couple, Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne), and their newborn, Stella, settling into their new home. The Gen X couple finds it hard to adjust to their new duties as parents, while also trying to maintain their old party lifestyle. When Delta Psi, a Gen Y college fraternity, moves in next door, the two see this as a chance to be “cool” once again — but worry about the safety of their daughter.

Surprisingly, the film does not start with unwarranted hate between both parties. The Radners are invited by fraternity president Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) and vice president Pete (Dave Franco) to party with Delta Psi. They share a symbiotic relationship: Mac and Kelly get to relive their glory days, while Delta Psi is safe from having the police called on them. When the relationship turns parasitic and Delta Psi begins to get out of hand, the couple attempts to call the police anonymously, but their plans are foiled by caller ID.

What ensues is what I originally expected: slapstick comedy. The Delta Psi fraternity wants revenge for being “betrayed,” while the Radners want to prove they are no pushovers. With a few twists and turns, the film goes from being a battle of pride to one of safety, security and the fear of growing up.

Sadly, the film’s comedy is the least appealing aspect of the film. With several trailers and a marketing campaign running for nearly eight months, the audience has seen most of the major comedy the film has to offer. The Wile E. Coyote-esque scenes, like hiding airbags and being pelted by a weight ball, are running gags that the audience has seen multiple times in the trailer.

What the trailers did not show was the film’s unique characters and how well the actors managed to play them. Byrne’s character uses her previous reputation as a “hoe who has taken down some bros” to turn the fraternity against one another by getting them to break the “golden rule”: Bros before hoes. Efron also is not your typical “bro” — he does a fantastic job of playing a disillusioned president who fears the future. Franco’s character is scarred by the divorce of his parents and uses the fraternity as a surrogate family. Although exposition on the characters’ backgrounds is given to the audience very judiciously, the actors bring complex characters to life in a stellar performance.

Delta Psi, in and of itself, can be seen as a character because of how in sync the actors are. I went into the movie ready to hate the fraternity, but just couldn’t. The fraternity seemed to be more than just party animals; they were a symbol of friendship and loyalty. From using synchronized “Hootie Hoos” as a way of finding each other at big parties, to sacrificing themselves so that a brother doesn’t ruin his future reputation, they were strangely likable.

Although the film’s main comedic moments ran dry, its likable characters and great acting sprinkle a little life onto the more subtle moments of the film — which happen to be more comedic than the planned punchlines.

Rating: 3/5

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