There’s a dildo fight in Neighbors. There are boner gags. A baby nearly swallows a condom. There’s a breastfeeding sequence that will bring you to tears with laughter. A female character wears an actual penis as a choker necklace. Women make out. Pot is smoked. Mushrooms are eaten. There’s even a random fart joke tossed in for good measure.
And here’s the irony: It’s also Seth Rogen’s most mature comedy to date. But — and here’s what too many filmmakers fail to understand — you can still blend juvenile humor with adult themes and make a great comedy. In fact, it’s the ability to provide realistic motivations for the dildo fight that makes Neighbors the best comedy since Bridesmaids. It’s not gross-out humor for the sake of itself; in Neighbors, there are actual human stakes involved, and that’s what allows it to transcend the typical studio-contrived, formula-driven, focus-tested comedy.
Neighbors is about a couple, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), with a new baby who are just trying to maintain some semblance of peace in their lives after a fraternity moves into the house next door. When they call the cops after a rager gets too loud, the fraternity president and vice-president, Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco), instigate a prank war that quickly escalates into something much, much bigger.
But what Neighbors is really about is growing up, about kicking and screaming against the forces of adulthood, and about ultimately resigning yourself to the inevitability of age, and finding comfort in it. At its core, it’s a sweet, heartfelt, kick-your-teeth-in funny movie about a couple rebelling against parenthood before ultimately succumbing to it.
Those themes may sound heavy, but Neighbors is anything but. There is a dildo fight, after all. It’s also an incredibly well cast movie, too, and if I had to pick absolutely one reason why Neighbors is the must-see comedy of 2014, it’s Rose Byrne, who plays severely against type. In doing so, she brilliantly subverts the nagging, shrewish female romantic-comedy stereotype, particularly in one scene in which she and Rogen have an argument over who gets to be the Kevin James character in the relationship. Byrne more than just a passive observer; she’s more than just the wife in Neighbors. She’s a legitimate co-lead and arguably the funniest character in the film. She is profoundly amazing in this, and she’s the only reason I wouldn’t otherwise single out Zac Efron, who has finally found the role in a mainstream film that let’s him be what he was born to be: A pretty boy villain with amazing abs, a perfect gleaming smile, and enough charm to make us forget that he’s actually the antagonist. Efron is good, and I’d argue that no one could come away from watching this movie and honestly not have some respect for him as a legitimate comedic actor.
Rogen is Rogen, in a good way, and what allows both Seth Rogen and a guy like Jason Segel to continue playing the leading men in films like this is that neither really relies on a schtick that would otherwise play itself out after a few films. They’re everymen, just not the kind we were once accustomed to seeing. Rogen is never going to win any awards for acting, but he delivers a good line, and he inhabits characters that seem real, because they are: They’re heightened version of himself, and as he grows older, he seems to become more and more like his mentor, Judd Apatow, which may ultimately mean that Neighbors is his Knocked Up: The peak of his comedy career. From here on out, he probably either sells out for banal family films or he crawls up into his own ass like Apatow has and allows the autobiographical overshadow the comedy.
But that’s neither here or there for today, because above all, Neighbors itself is insanely, hilariously funny, and what makes it doubly so is the fact that the humor comes from a familiar place: Exhaustion, the inability to find moments in our day to have have sex our spouses, and the concern that the comfortable monotony of our adult lives means missing out on some theoretical adventures. That’s what makes it more than hilarious; that’s what makes Neighbors interesting.