Dir: Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Seth Rogan, Zak Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco
Cert: 15, Runtime: 96 minutes
The Animal House-inspired frat-com Bad Neighbours could have been so much worse than it actually is. Just think about it: the trailer was so stuffed with slapstick that your film-buff brain took over. And, surely, anything that puts that much effort in rarely pays out just as well…
Leave all that negativity at home before going to see this, though, for while it may not be one for the Oscars, sometimes a dose of laughter is just what the doctor ordered. The hilarious Seth Rogan and surprising Zak Efron take the leads for the epic battle of ‘Frat vs. Family’.
Mac Radner (Rogan) is a married 30-something who, with wife Kelly (Byrne) and baby Stella, is just getting used to American suburbia. Goodbye to carefree party nights, and hello to boredom. Or so they thought. This middle-class family setting is invaded when it turns out the new next-door neighbours just so happen to be Teddy Sanders (Efron) and his sidekick Pete (Franco), the leaders of a crazy bunch of bros: The Delta Psi Beta Fraternity, known for their outrageous partying and, of course, creating the popular drinking game ‘beer pong’.
After a night of too much noise, Mac and Kelly go round to complain, but end up actually joining in. Mac and Teddy, now high, debate which Batman is better: Keaton or Bale? Your answer to this ultimately decides your age. In another scene, Kelly asks Teddy’s girlfriend how they first met. “I saw him, he saw me,” is the casual comeback. With this, the whole theme of ‘Growing up vs. Staying Young’ is firmly set. Firstly there is the realisation that after graduation the epic end-of-year bash will mean nothing. On the other side of the spectrum there is the knowledge that parenthood does not mean domestic bliss.
Comedy is fuelled by a petty misunderstanding, before point-scoring pranks result in risqué comic chaos. It’s within these scenes, however, that the film loses focus. With a superb support cast such as Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin/Superbad) and Craig Roberts (Submarine) they are times when we need more than a montage.
Also, the lack of female roles means that if you were to think of this film as a chocolate bar, it would be a Yorkie. Byrne is a prominent rose instead of a shrinking violet, but little Stella is variously threatened or just simply forgotten, and at one point made to dress up as male TV characters. At first, this may seem like a good idea, but it does make you stop and take a second to think, especially when Kelly says “Let’s get all the leading men out the way!” Yep, let’s ignore a century of female icons? Maybe Hollywood has problems?
Of course it does, and this film is doused with silly stereotypes, but one way it wins is that Bad Neighbours is home to a lot of humour. Efron has moved from his former Disney-prince status and stands as an amusing smiling psychopath-in-waiting, while buddy bro Franco is a total scream. Rogan obviously has some great lines: referring to Efron’s terrifying abs as “a great big arrow” and the film looks to show flab that as funny rather than gross. But the one trait that holds Mac, Kelly, Teddy and We together is that fear of growing up… and the added responsibility it brings. It’s rare for a comedy so crude and clichéd to have an added important insight to add.