Bad Neighbours (2013, US)

With neighbours like these, who needs enemies?

RATING: 6.5/10

"I’m a dumbass because I graduated from here!”

A comedy between two adversaries who are more similar than they think. If irony is sarcasm with A-Levels, then this film keeps resitting its GCSEs.

Director: Nicholas Stoller | Writers: Andrew J. Cohen & Brendan O'Brien ActorsSeth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, et al | Cinematographer: Brandon Trost | Studio: Good Universe & Point Grey Pictures ProducersEvan Goldberg, Seth Rogen & James Weaver.
One sentence description: Fratboys and new parents have culture clash but they’re really not that different (lulz) !
One (long) sentence review: Weak storyline devoid of much intelligence but just enough charm in the leads to carry an above-average slacker comedy. 
Watch it if…You like scenes with a man milking a woman.
Don’t watch it if…You like your comedy to be smart. 
Best thing about the film…Rose Byrne’s lame but funny attempts to be cool.

I often think of slacker comedies (or slackoms) as films where the advisory warning at the beginning (“film contains profanity, nudity, drug use”) acts as a spoiler, because that’s basically how you’ll describe the film once you’ve seen it. Anyway, from the first scene when we see Rogen & Byrne try to copulate with their baby watching in the same room, we’re reassured in knowing where we are: this is a typical 21st century R-rated slackom with most of the comedy derived from trying to be as offensive and profane as possible. Oh, and some references to the decline of the American education system. Yay for social commentary! Now on to the scene where Seth Rogen attempts to milk Rose Byrne and gets squirted in the face.

For a moment I thought this was made by Judd Apatow, with Seth Rogen playing, well, himself, but it turns out it’s by Nicholas Stoller et al, with Seth Rogen playing, well, himself. That Seth really has a great gig – he gets to rake in millions for playing himself amped up to 11. But then to be fair, he really does have a comic presence attuned to the modern fast-talking social networked comedies. Fortunately, he’s paired up with a feisty, sweary Rose Byrne who is finally allowed to use her natural accent (regional accents notwithstanding). 

To put it bluntly, this film is a ‘tart with a heart’: despite the raving, the hot young bodies on display, weed and explicit sex, the film really is an old-fashioned tale of people in different stages in their lives and learning to cope with new responsibilities. However, the film's fuel is age-gap and drinking gags with a liberal sprinkling of rudeness and crudeness.

The central premise is a battle between the two factions for what they both believe in – the fratboys’ right to part-ay and the parents’ rights to quiet and a chance to rear their baby in peace. How quaint. If you thought this would be a rehash of some cute 1980s comedy though, you’d be mistaken. If this had been made in the 1980s, it would’ve been Bill Murray and Diane Keaton and you’d sure as hell never hear the f-bomb. Instead, what we have is a typical Judd Apatow-esque vehicle for gross-out/slacker/American-Pie-esque comedy.

The ‘more milk than woman’ set piece was mildly funny but…OF COURSE HE SQUIRTS HIMSELF! Get a grip, guys. Too easy.

On one side of the topiary we have the new parents Rogen & Byrne, good-time guys who’ve suddenly found themselves pinned down at home and unable to party the way they used to. In this phase of their lives, they've lost the spontaneity of their youth, now so evident in Efron and Franco's lot. So we get a good scene of them agreeing to take their baby girl with them to the rave (!) as a way of balancing parenthood and play, and by the time they’ve collected all her things, they fall asleep, only to wake hours later when the party is over. Literally and figuratively.

So when the fratboys move in next door, they become enablers for these two to party and still be within 30 seconds of their daughter. The balancing act leads to Byrne (who seems to do the bulk of the parenting) carrying her baby monitor around on the dancefloor.

This idyll is shattered when the fratboys show their true colours: relentless drug use, drinking, partying and sexual activity well past 3am. In fact, you’d think none of these guys knows what a book looks like. Actually, they could’ve played on that - if we’d discovered that Zac Efron and co weren’t really students but actually older than they said they were (which they are) and are secretly corporate spies charged with marketing certain brand names through their shindigs. But no, it’s just a straightforward battle of wit(lessness)s between the ‘grown ups’ and the “fratboys”. One of their pranks is in the trailer - the airbag prank. The second involves a tastefully produced topiary, below. I'll let Paul make my feelings clear.

We have this bizarre scene where Efron and his buddies mix up movie references, much to Rogen and Byrne’s agitation. Except the references tend to be movies that were made before Rogen and Byrne were born (like Taxi Driver) and the age gaps are tiny. Graph of the day time!

As you can see, most of the gags are either crude or obvious, which is funny at the time but doesn't linger. However, the charm of Rogen and Byrne and their hapless parenting act just about carries the film. There are a few layers to the film, although not as sincerely portrayed as you’d imagine. 

Rogen’s character perhaps comes to see Efron’s character as himself just 5-10 years ago, as Efron is completely unprepared for the world after University. Efron gets a rude awakening after University and has to work as a ‘model’ for Abercrombie & Fitch, while Dave Franco’s fratboy actually finds himself a decent graduate job. Through the film you hear some commentary about University culture in the US, like when a character remarks “you know, the University really has some great facilities that nobody uses”.

In some ways, battling the new neighbours provide a release valve for our plucky parents to get away from their (supposedly) mundane mum and dad lives. In some ways, it provides entertainment for both sides of the fence, but particularly so for the parents. At the beginning, you can see Rogen & Byrne itching to get out there and abandon their baby, but guess what?! By the end, they discover that maybe their baby should be the centre of their life and maybe, just maybe, they should act their age! Wow, that’s some real learnin’.

Anyway, there’s just enough charm and good music here to salvage what is otherwise a mediocre comedy. The Fourth Wall rates it at 6.5/10, which is a recommendation. Just.

Oh, obligatory topless pic of Zac Efron:


No comments: