‘Neighbors’ = ‘Bridesmaids’ + ‘Animal House’ + Zac Efron’s Pecs
There is a moment in “Neighbors” when housewife Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) realizes that the key to destroying the frat brothers next door is to make them break that most holy of vows: “bros before hos.”
There are few phrases we hate more than “bros before hos.” Aside from the fact that we don’t particularly like being called hos (though we are of course very sex-positive and also respectful of our sistren and brethren working in the sex industry, etc) the statement only benefits a very small, very specific subset of people. Those people, of course, are bros. Who we hate.
So how delightful it is that Kelly cheerfully goes about the business of obliterating this vow, with both her husband Mac (Seth Rogen) and the rest of us there to cheer her on. It’s refreshing to sit through two hours of frat comedy where we are aligned with the fuddy-duddy neighbors who just want their baby to be able to sleep through the night. This movie may have a lot in common with “Animal House,” but it has more sympathy for the Dean Wormers of the world than the Blutos.
Not that these bros are the villains in this piece. The frat boys (led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco), though they are infuriating and just chock-full of white male privilege, are not actually bad guys. They are simply guys facing the end of the short, glorious periods of their lives where they had all the power and none of the responsibility of being an adult. You don’t root against them, but you do view them through the lens of two people who’ve moved past that period in their lives. You understand that one day, Zac Efron too will be calling the police on the asshole kids next door because his baby can’t sleep. And there is a poignancy in the fact that Rogen, that broiest of bros, would probably have been cast as the frat house president in this movie five years ago.
Like “Animal House,” and “Bridesmaids,” and indeed all really really good comedies, this strikes an able balance between sweet and sour – it has a mean, unflinching spirit without tipping into bitterness. The feud between Delta Psi and the Radners is based as much on mutual envy as anything else. The Radners are young enough to still look at that portion of their lives as a golden time, free from responsibility, where they didn’t need sleep. In many ways Kelly misses that time more than Mac – she’s tethered to her new life by a baby monitor with limited range and the need to pump every few hours. But the Radners are also distinctively a team. There is no battle of the sexes in this movie – Mac clearly respects and admires his wife and vice versa. Their marriage is so strong that the one time they do have a fight, it actually rings false. And the last time we see them together they are in bed, exhausted and triumphant. Facing the golden age of the next part of their lives full of pizza, a little stoned, and still in love.