‘Neighbors’ deftly blends comedy and maturity

By Ian Flanagan / Staff Writer

If you’re expecting “Neighbors” to be some simplistic prankster war between juvenile adults, blame it on the dumbed-down TV spots. Be sure to ignore the misleading marketing — “Neighbors” is way smarter than it looks.

When a fraternity led by party-crazy Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron, finally in his element) moves into a house in the suburbs, first-time parents Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) find their peaceful adult lifestyle at risk with these rowdy new neighbors. They try to find ways to make the fraternity lose the house, but this only causes Teddy and friends — including the very funny Dave Franco — to retaliate in their fight for their right to party.

The humor may be as crass and sometimes as childish as one might expect, but experienced comedy director Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Get Him to the Greek”) keeps the film humming with an agreeable sense of enthusiasm, loose and casual pacing and uncommon intelligence. “Neighbors” is thoughtful and gleefully light-hearted, rising far above the standards of the average summer comedy.

Rogen continues to cash in on his lovability, this time with exceptional ease as a new father to an adorable baby so he, along with Byrne, who exercises some confident comedy chops as Rogen’s British wife, quickly earn our sympathies. That’s not to say that Efron and friends are exactly villains — both houses are awarded equal screen time, and each of our lead characters are unexpectedly well-defined and fairly believable.

We clearly see both sides of this comedic struggle, and though the jokes ultimately supersede the character nuances, the ideas on each turf are profound and honest. With Rogen and Byrne, there’s a portrait of young thirty-somethings adjusting to the life-changing shift to parenthood. With Efron, the film depicts the frightening limbo between college and real adulthood through a woefully unprepared college senior.

In fact, with such a relaxed structure and miniscule scale, there’s plenty of room in the lean 96 minutes to have the bigger, louder comedic moments and the joyful breathers in between. The best laughs aren’t from the sex jokes and brash slapstick, but from the seemingly unimportant conversations amongst the film’s more indisposable plot points in the neighborhood feuding.

In one scene, Rogen and Efron discuss the different film incarnations of Batman in intricate detail. Another scene finds Rogen and Byrne stoned and slowly falling asleep while discussing how parenting is much different than they expected. These instances are so well-scripted that they feel real — or maybe it’s just some masterful improvisation.

This little film is neither slight nor as pointlessly noisy and brazenly crude as the lackluster advertising might imply. “Neighbors” is an intimate, personal and exceptionally mature comedy that is, best of all, so much fun.

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