Bad Neighbours

Director: Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne
Length: 97 min
Country: USA

There are some sophisticated (well…more sophisticated than you’re anticipating) undercurrents in Bad Neighbours, but wisely they take a backseat to the business of jokes. The film isn’t afraid to lightly engage with notions of middle-class alienation and the doldrums of suburbia, but ultimately it’s a movie in which breast-pumps are abused and frat-boys make plaster moulds of their junk. Directed by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), the film is refreshingly zippy at 97 minutes, maintaining a welcome standard of raucousness across the expanse of its lightly defined three act structure. I applaud the fact that Bad Neighbours affords some thought to its culture clashing comedy, but essentially it’s the movie’s wit and dexterous bravery in the face of unspeakably gross material that make it a joy to sit through.

Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) have purchased new property in a suburban paradise, mapping out a restrained and comely neighbourhood in which to raise their new-born daughter. Both are finding the responsibilities of maturation challenging, but things are complicated when a Frat, led by the seemingly affable Teddy (Zac Efron) saddle-up next-door. Despite an initially promising rapport, relations breakdown as the elders grow frustrated by the Frat’s unending partying. A war of attrition commences, Mac and Kelly attempting to manipulate the Frat into a state of internal combustion, whilst Teddy motors each subsequent shindig and act of gregarious showmanship to offensively garish heights.

Bad Neighbours is in one sense a film about the melancholia of lost youth, monitored from various (albeit always socially privileged) perspectives. Efron’s Teddy is a 21st Century Peter Pan, replacing whimsy and fantasy with beer-pong and a naïve understanding of what matters in the world. He’s not a “bad” guy and certainly doesn’t approximate a villainous character (although a threat he ushers late on is riddled with malicious intelligence), in fact he’s charming, ambitious in his own youthful fashion and faultlessly committed to the preservation of his friends and brothers. Similarly Rogen and Byrne’s newlyweds are faulty, but only in sympathetic and genuine ways. Mac wants to keep doing drugs but knows his daughter’s well-being rests on sobriety and dependability, whilst Kelly is exhausted by the inertia of suburbia and the physical strain placed on her maternal figure. They all have their hearts in the right place, and Stoller’s impressive juxtaposition of humdrum middle-class habits and rampant debaucheries actually sit well beside each other to deliver an easily decipherable stance. Growing old can be rough. It can be uncertain. It definitely requires a newfound selflessness.

Bad Neighbours is in one sense a film about the melancholia of lost youth, monitored from various (albeit always socially privileged) perspectives.

Bad Neighbours underlines the obstacles and unfavourable elements of aging within a randy, R-rated packet, utilising a spectrum of positions to enrich its simplistic but rewarding thesis. Thankfully whilst all this is present and moderately interesting, Stoller never positions it as more important than a hearty laugh. It’s pleasant to observe a comedy with some pathos, but in this particular instance I’ll take an inspired gag involving rogue airbags over pensive introspection every damn time. Zac Efron has proven a tough commodity for Hollywood to satisfactorily utilise. There’s unquestionably talent and potential tucked behind his impossibly handsome grin, but he’s often been forced into parts that lean too hard on sincerity (the dull Charlie St. Cloud) or which dial up his physical attributes to smarmy effect (this year’s deplorable That Awkward Moment). Bad Neighbours actually finds a perfect halfway point for the Disney graduate, giving him sufficient humanity to prevent the douchebag aura suffocating, whilst also injecting enough zip to preserve a modicum of edge and comedic unpredictability. It’s a fine performance and highlights what I’ve always know; he can be very amusing. Bad Neighbours just happens to be a rare screenplay that supplements his mischievous charisma.

Rogen is likable and brings some jocose improvisational patter to the party, although it is quintessentially the same sloppy Seth Rogen performance we’ve seen a dozen times since 2007. A little less familiar is Byrne, building on the promise of Bridesmaids to remind us she’s a sharp and game comedienne in her own right. Certainly when it comes to the sticky, crude stuff, the Australian actress blinks less than the boys. Stoller is a film-maker of proven pedigree having contributed to a number of impressive hits over the years. Bad Neighbours isn’t as sweet or humane as his last directorial outing (2012’s unfairly forgotten The Five-Year Engagement), but it’s equally mirthful. Stoller has a reassuring habit of attempting stimulating stuff on an audio and visual front, including some stylish party compositions that leave you pining for an invite, and a soundtrack that accentuates the comedy by contrasting the sun-baked but mundane suburbia with a knowing hip-hop flow.

Bad Neighbours is a strong start for 2014’s summer comedies (many of which will be adopting an R-rated mood) and more thoughtful than I expected. However, the picture’s chief achievement is its ability to conjure a respectable laugh every couple of moments, allowing for a pleasing odyssey of unacceptable behaviour.

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