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Review: Neighbors

Equal parts clever, gross, and cute. A celebration of partying, and a melancholy look at what it means to grow up.

Neighbors is a funny new comedy about a couple with a newborn baby who face unforeseen obstacles when a frat moves into the house next door. This premise lends itself to escalating parties, pranks, and conflict. While the film is packed to the brim with gags, many of which are gasp inducing or laugh out loud funny, it ultimately succeeds by giving both sides interesting characters you can simultaneously root for and against.

It stars Seth Rogen (This is the End) and Rose Byrne (Insidious) as a young couple trying to be good parents and remain cool at the same time. In the frat next door, Zac Efron (That Awkward Moment) plays the president, fully committed to the brotherhood, and Dave Franco (21 Jump Street) plays his vice president/best friend who is more focused on his future.

This is director Nicolas Stoller's funniest movie since 2008's Forgetting Sarah Marshall. At times, the laughing was so loud in the packed theater that I couldn't hear the dialogue for the next joke. However, the type of humor jumps all over the place. This is the kind of movie that uses both male and female nudity for comedic effect, yet also focuses entire scenes on escalating puns or a baby dressed in a series of adorable costumes. What I mean by this is that is it has few boundaries, and will go pretty much anywhere for a joke.

While there are funny moments in either the individual family or frat scenes, the comedy is at its highest when the two worlds collide. Watching the Rogen and Byrne trying a little too hard to play it cool when first visiting the frat is fun. Things really escalate however, when the animosity comes out between them. A scene at a party where Byrne has to manipulate Franco into hooking up with Efron's girlfriend drew applause from the crowd.

The party scenes are visually exciting and fun to watch, but also slightly problematic because they seem gratuitous at times, glorifying a frat lifestyle that the movie criticizes at other points. Where the film succeeds is painting the characters on both sides as flawed but likable. For all its celebration of partying and revenge there is a melancholy undertone showing the dangers of clinging to the past and romanticizing youth.

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In its first half, the film features quite a few fun cameos from unexpected comedians to keep things interesting. The pacing slows after the climax of the film. The final confrontation includes an amazing scene of physical comedy, but what follows doesn't have quite the payoff one would expect. Still, the movie ends on a satisfying, if smartly downbeat note.

Ultimately, Neighbors is a highly satisfying and hilarious revenge movie set in a frat house. We become invested in the character not because of the escalating gags, but because they are depicted with subtlety and nuance, which underscore the occasionally melancholy tone. All of the main actors are given comedic moment in which they can shine, and there are quite a few moments that made me gasp and/or laugh out loud.

Neighbors comes out on May 9, 2014.

Rating: 8/10 Stars