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"Neighbors" (2014) reminded me that I'm old, but not the way it wanted to.

I'd heard a lot of good things about Neighbors.  Many folks were calling it the funniest comedy of 2014, so I had pretty high expectations going in.  That's almost always a recipe for disaster - I can't think of a single movie that has ever lived up to hype.


It's not a bad movie.  I thought it wast mostly funny, but it fell well short of being great.  I'd give it either a 3 or a 3.5 out of 5.  Its best asset was a great cast and a lot of excellent performances.  (Keep in mind that I actually generally liked the movie, because almost all of the rest of this post is me complaining.  That's just what I do.  Sorry, Internet.)

The premise, in case you somehow missed this one, is that two young adults, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, are raising their infant daughter in the suburbs in relative peace until a fraternity led by Zac Efron moves into the vacant house next door.  After some misunderstandings and conflict between them, Rogen/Byrne and Efron get into a prank war that escalates to ~~ outrageous! ~~ levels.

The best moments of the movie are the sincere parts where the characters face up to what their lives actually are and yearn for things they don't have.  It's a film that frequently draws a parallel between kids in their early twenties and adults in their early thirties.  There's plenty of material to work with.  Both groups are in a transitional period - one from adolescence to the awkward, desperate decade before true adulthood, and the other from that desperation to something more hopeful and stable.  Both periods are full of equal parts vigor and terror.  Both periods come with a struggle for identity (both to find and to maintain it).  Both groups have problems with money, romance, and authority.

These comparisons mostly work.  Efron's greatest scenes come at the moments where he panics at where his life is going - for example, he goes to a job fair and is told to his face by a recruiter that he's too stupid to work at AT&T.  And Rogen and Byrne's greatest moments come when they panic about whether or not they're missing out on the world by turning into parents.

But the problem is that Neighbors also wants to be a raunchy sex comedy with party scenes and debauchery.  Don't get me wrong - if your movie is about college kids, I kind of expect that.  But you're creating a false parallel.  There's a huge difference between 22 year-old frat boys who spend their weekends getting trashed and, um, every other 22 year-old on the planet.  The party lifestyle the movie shows is something that only a very slim minority of the planet - even within the American population - really can afford to experience, both in terms of time and money.

The simple fact is that Party Boys and Girls don't make it to their senior year.  You have to shape up or ship out.  And people who live stable lives like Rogen and Byrne would have eschewed the party scene long ago.


Nothing about the debauchery rang true to me.  All the parties I've ever gone to have been of two types.  If the party was being hosted by somebody in the Achiever group - the folks that I normally hang out with - then it only got a little crazy.  At worst it would be controlled chaos; after all, everybody had to take an exam the next morning or go to work or do something with their lives.  The other types of parties I went to?  Hosted by people who knew they had no prospects.  Hosted by people who were, frankly, losers.  Those were the crazy parties.  And I didn't stick around - because I had exams and work to do the next day.

I guess the problem I have with Neighbors is that the lessons that Rogen and Byrne learn are things that any reasonable adult human with half a brain would have learned more than a decade earlier.  The result is that the two central protagonists are both unrealistically successful and too stupid to have a baby.

(Also, how the fuck are you two not able to get your shit packed and out the door in that opening scene?  I've only been a parent for three months and even I can get the kid in the car in less than 15 minutes.  You keep a diaper bag sitting by the door at all times ready to go, then you buckle the kid in the car seat and get the hell out of the house.  It's not rocket science, assholes.  No, you don't need to bring all that shit.  You need two things: a diaper bag and a car seat.  Figure it the fuck out, morons.)

Now for an abrupt shift in my nitpicking.

The Part Where I Complain About the Pranking


I really hate how the movie tries to set up that Rogen and Byrne can't go to the cops with their complaints.  It doesn't make sense on any practical level.

I get it, I know... I'm supposed to just suspend my disbelief or else the Prank War can't happen.  But you coulda tried a little harder.  Why not make the cop a former member of the frat?  Or maybe the Sheriff is good friends with one of the frat boys' fathers?  I need a valid reason to believe that Rogen and Byrne are truly on their own - as it is, the cop just comes across as an idiot and Rogen and Byrne come across as cowards.


Let's look at the most infamous prank from the movie: the frat boys steal all the airbags out of Byrne's car and hide them in various places around Rogen's office and house.  Whenever he sits on certain chairs, the airbags go off and he flies across the room, getting injured in the process.  Ha ha.  It's funny because his head is bleeding.

Okay, now... call the cops, dumbass.  Hell, call the FBI.  Call everyone.  I counted at least six crimes in that prank, which range from misdemeanor to felony as well as local to federal offenses:

1) Trespassing on private property (and probably breaking and entering);
2) Destruction of property;
3) Tampering with safety devices;
4) Assault;
5) Child endangerment;
6) Attempted murder.

There's exactly one moment in that sequence where they call attention to the danger when Rogen pokes at his baby's crib to make sure there's no airbag.  But that just rings hollow.  There were two separate easy chairs in their house rigged with the airbags - Byrne or Rogen could have easily sat down in either one while holding the baby, and suddenly you've got a dead infant on your hands.  Now your movie is depressing.  Way to go, asshole.

It just doesn't make sense to me to pretend to get serious at times and then pull this crap in the same movie.  I'd have preferred it if Neighbors went all out in one direction or the other.  Either go nuts and make a truly sleazy sex farce / college comedy, or reign it all in and make more of a level-headed examination of life and maturity.  The middle of the road only seems safer.