“He looks like something a gay guy designed in a laboratory,” marvels paunchy Mac (Seth Rogen) to his almost equally awestruck wife, Kelly (Rose Byrne), about the tank-topped boy next door. Because that taut and tawny boy Teddy (Zac Efron) and his alky band of fraternity bros are in the middle of noisily unloading their moving van filled with two-story beer bongs, turntables, and Dixie cups, their lascivious admiration doesn’t last. Neighbors, not so much homo-social as it is homo-observational, pits Mac and Kelly, vaguely reluctant new parents trying desperately to hold onto their waning good-time years, against a raucous guild of priapic party animals. Their barely intergenerational beefing would be all too meta for this roster of Apatow-adjacent players and filmmakers were the movie not so doggedly magnanimous, at least so far as its profuse male characters are concerned. Not for nothing do two characters spend the majority of an entire scene spitballing variations on the maxim, “bros before hoes.”
Mac and Kelly are in the middle of their joint post-quarter-life, pre-midlife crisis, not ready to relinquish their fondness for getting amped at unannounced Prince concerts, snarfing shrooms with both hands, eating pizza in bed, and having sex in every room of their new house. To wit, their first impulsive concern when they realize they’re going to have to share a property line with keg-standing night owls is that the college kids won’t think they’re cool, not that their infant is going to have to learn how to fall asleep to dubstep lullabies. They hope their preemptive peace offering from their personal pot stash will balance out their highly rehearsed chillax request to “keep it down.” It isn’t until slack pheromones and wilted prophylactics start drifting over onto their lawn that their Gran Torino instincts start to kick in. If they can get the university to hand the frat a third strike for violating the code of conduct, their gang will be forced to disband and put the house up for sale (hopefully to that cute gay couple and their playdate-ready baby).
Directed with uncharacteristic curtness by Nicholas Stoller, who previously turned The Five-Year Engagement’s foot-dragging Peter Pan syndrome into what felt like a four-hour ordeal, Neighbors sells the conflict between primarily Mac and Teddy as its main attraction. In fact, the promotional materials implore viewers to vote either #TeamFrat or #TeamFamily on Twitter, though the audience is way more likely to be split between #TeamPecEfron and #TeamByrneBoobsplosion. But predictably sublimated beneath their airbag-hiding, dildo-slapping, dance-offing rivalry are fears about transitioning from one dick-abundant phase in life to the next stage, one ominously lacking in phallic supremacy and instead dominated by one lone vagina. (Byrne’s own struggle to keep up a façade of fulfillment while staying at home to raise their daughter is relegated to B-story status.) The shrewdest moment in the entire film arrives via a series of flashback sequences that skewer the veneration boys have for this phase, depicting the purported “invention” of beer pong and toga parties during eras past, giving nodding cameos to the Lonely Island and the boys of Workaholics (an immensely savvier deconstruction of prolonged latency periods).
The movie must know most of its audience is on the same page because, pushing aside some of the climax’s excellently choreographed fight flailing, nearly every punchline in the whole film centers around how deliciously and reassuringly revolting male loins are…or are they? At one point, to raise badly needed funds, the fraternity casts molds of their own dicks to sell to their neighbors, managing to raise well in excess of $10,000. Selling particularly well is the baseball bat-sized unit modeled by Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s Scoonie. And then there’s Dave Franco (who any reasonably cultured soul would know is actually what a gay guy would design in a laboratory) playing Teddy’s second-in-command Pete, a secretly scholarly psychologist who can accurately diagnose exactly why Teddy hates Mac, but who for some reason won’t acknowledge the true reason he’s able to spontaneously sprout wood whenever he’s in a room full of drunk 19-year-old men. Oh cum on, Cum Laude!