This is technically the first film at SXSW that I’ve seen this year that I haven’t seen previously. Neighbors was one of the biggest premieres at this years festival, as not only was it the world premiere, but it featured most of the principal cast in attendance, and you can understand why I had a not so great spot up in the balcony of the historic Paramount Theater tonight. But this was also a big premiere because Neighbors is hoping to be a smash comedy hit for Universal Pictures this summer, which had a so-so last summer in terms of profits from the box office. The film unites Seth Rogen with longtime collaborator Evan Goldberg, who both produced the film but did not write the film. They wrote and directed last summers big hit This is The End, which I still haven’t seen but I hear good things. That was a big hit for Rogen and Goldberg, and they have enlisted longtime friend Nicolas Stoller, director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, to make the film, and the great people of Austin, Texas can now say that we have seen it first. Here’s my review.
Rogen and Rose Byrne play Mac and Kelly, a straight-laced young family that have just delivered a beautiful baby girl to the world. Life is going good for the couple until a fraternity from the local college decides to move in. Zac Efron plays the president of the frat, who becomes the film’s main antagonist after Rogen and Byrne call the cops on the frat. The fraternity fights back, and uses everything in their power to wage an all out war with the couple. Thus, shenanigans ensue.
Other cast members in the film include James Franco’s younger brother Dave Franco, and about a dozen different cameos from some of Hollywood’s funniest young comics. I gotta admit that I never saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which I regret because I hear great things about the film. I, along with most of America’s youth, see 2011’s The Muppets, which Stoller wrote with longtime collaborator Jason Siegel, the star of Sarah Marshall. So naturally, a lot rides on this film to impress in the laugh department. Is the film gross? Yes. Is it vile and crude? Absolutely. But it’s also wildly funny and one of the funniest R-rated comedies I’ve seen in recent memory. Seth Rogen’s comedic timing and improvisation is spot on as usual, and his chemistry with Zac Efron is spot on. Speaking of which, I think Zac Efron is starting to finally come into his own as a young actor. Granted, his High School Musical past still hangs heavily over him (I could tell by the teenage girls screaming by the red carpet as I stood in line), but his role is obviously not a game changer in terms of great acting, but if this film is as big of a hit as Universal hopes it is, I think people’s perception of Efron could slowly start to change, but don’t expect a McConaughey scenario.
But quite possibly my favorite performance from the film was Rose Byrne, who gives what may be her best screen performance. I’ve been a massive fan of the actress ever since I discovered the television show Damages on Netflix a few years back. She’s tried to focus her career more on comedy than on dead serious drama like Damages, and while some of her comedic performances were hit (Bridesmaids) or miss (The Internship), this one hits dead on, and there were some scenes that featured her that had me cracking up. Her improv skills rival Rogen’s and even Efron’s surprisingly great improv skills in this film. As great and as funny as the film can be, there were a few jokes here and there that sort of fell flat for me. It wasn’t an ongoing thing in the film, but there were some jokes that just didn’t quite work as well as others. Granted, I will give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt as they said that the film the premiered tonight was a “work in progress”, which is understandable as there were some technical hic-ups that weren’t blaringly noticeable, but if you’re a film guy like me you’d get it.
So while Neighbors is definitely no Animal House, it’s still a very funny comedy from the school of Judd Apatow (most of the people from the film have at least worked with Apatow in the past) that features some laugh out loud funny moments and some stellar comedic performances. The film isn’t perfect, and there are maybe one or two subplots and jokes I could do without (there’s a joke about breast-feeding that was interesting, and you’ll know what I mean when you see the film in May), it’s still a very funny comedy that will manage to please audiences. So that does it for me tonight, tomorrow I will be seeing the new David Gordon-Green film Joe, and the highly anticipated sequel to 2012’s The Raid, The Raid 2. Stay tuned through my Facebook and Twitter.