2007 was Seth Rogen’s year. After years of being a funny schlub of a supporting character in the criminally underrated Freaks and Geeks and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Rogen had his breakthrough with the back-to-back smashes Knocked Up and Superbad, which solidified his role as Hollywood’s funniest and most delightfully chubby stoner.
Rogen has had a few successful projects since that year, but it’s safe to say that his work has lost a bit of its quality — after a while, marijuana jokes lost their luster and chubbiness stopped being a punchline.
But with last year’s This is the End, where Rogen and company redefined the phrase “so meta,” and the upcoming Neighbors, Rogen seems to have regained the magic that made Hollywood fall in love with him in the first place. Instead of relying on the same ol’ stoner jokes, the Judd Apatow comedy fraternity has gone back to the drawing board and chosen the most basic location to set a comedy — an actual fraternity.
In Neighbors, Rogen plays Mac, the devoted husband of Kelly (Rose Byrne) and loving father of baby Stella. Though Mac is another one of Rogen’s stoner personas caught in an extreme situation, his darling affection for his family makes him less of an annoyance.
One day, Mac and Kelly look out their window to see that one of the local university’s fraternities is moving in next door. Mac and Kelly decide to play it as “cool” as possible, walking over to share a joint with the fraternity president, played by Zac Efron, but what starts out as harmless fun turns into an epic, neighbors-from-Hell saga.
Rogen is joined by the aforementioned Rose Byrne, who commits herself fully to what could have been a rather hackneyed secondary role. Allowing her native Australian accent to shine, Byrne brings the production down to earth, even when she’s shouting expletives at the top of her lungs. The other supporting characters are equally as charming, especially Ike Barinholtz and Carla Gallo as Mac and Kelly’s psychotic and divorced best friends, Jimmy and Paula.
But the real standout here is Disney-meets-gym star Zac Efron as fraternity president Teddy Sanders. Not afraid to get down and dirty, Efron erases any sense of vanity that good-looking young actors tend to have.
Actor Dave Franco plays Teddy’s partner in crime, Pete, and manages to get quite a few laughs along with fellow fraternity brothers Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Jerrod Carmichael.
The film’s set reportedly encouraged as much improvisation as possible, which is not surprising considering how out-of-nowhere some of the jokes seem. But that’s one of the film’s endearing qualities: You can tell just how much fun the actors are having onscreen.
As a result, fraternity life has never looked quite this joyful. The parties at Delta Psi are underscored by thumping, catchy “bro anthems” and showed the brothers gyrating with sexy coeds under neon lights. The film’s climax centers around a marijuana-themed party (surprise, surprise) that sees the Deltas light giant trash barrels full of weed on fire, hot-boxing their entire fraternity house in an attempt to secure a place among Delta Psi legends.
Apart from the core cast of comedians, a few of the best moments in Neighbors were thanks to well-placed cameos by other members of the so-called “comedy frat.” Workaholics stars Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine and Anders Holm, for example, appear in a hazy memory of Delta Psis in the ’70s inadvertently inventing the game of beer pong. The Lonely Island’s Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone are pictured as the founders of the Toga party after a production of Julius Caesar by Deltas in the 1920s gets out of hand. And Jake Johnson of New Girl fame is heralded as the pioneer behind the “boot and rally,” disgustingly vomiting into his boot and then continuing to party even harder. The best cameo, however, had to be at the hands of former Friends star Lisa Kudrow, who kills it as a smart-aleck Dean who keeps it real.
These brief performances speak to the film’s star power and show that the story doesn’t have to be that interesting, but in the hands of the right actors, decent jokes can be elevated to something that rivals comedy.