Bad Neighbours (2014)

Zac Efron and Dave Franco in Bad Neighbours

Bad Neighbours (titled just Neighbors in the States) is a mash-up of two “classic” – or, if you’re feeling less generous, clichéd – comedy conceits. The film modifies the ‘slobs vs snobs’ frathouse formula by repurposing the ‘snobs’ as 30-something stoners struggling with the demands of adulthood. There’s little originality in the Bad Neighbours screenplay, but thankfully the filmmakers exceed the tired trappings to execute some riotously funny jokes.

On the ‘snobs’ end of the divide – sort of – stands Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne). Having recently become both spouses and parents, they’re experiencing an early-life crisis. Teddy – like practically every Rogen character – would rather sit on the couch smoking weed than tackle responsibilities like a full-time job and a daughter. Kelly is similarly conflicted, bored by her stay-at-home mum duties when she could be heading out to a rave.

Director Nicholas Stoller’s primary focus isn’t a consideration of the challenges of parenting (the couple’s daughter, Stella, is not only one of the cutest babies ever, she’s also apparently the most docile). Rather, it’s comedy. Rogen and Byrne are a fantastic comedy duo and have a natural, understated chemistry that believably captures the familiarity of a couple in a long-term relationship; Byrne even gets to keep her Australian accent. It’s also refreshing to see a wife in a comedy who’s neither a ditz nor a nag (though the film loses points for failing to include any other female characters of substance).

The titular neighbours are a bunch of fratboys, led by Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco), who move in next door. The group are an amalgam of every fratboy trope under the sun, but they have some character traits beyond chugging beers and pumping tunes (Teddy and Pete’s relationship, for example, is strained by their divergent goals post-college). A brief friendship between the neighbours quickly turns sour after Mac and Kelly call the cops (represented by the always-hilarious Hannibal Buress) to make a noise complaint. It soon escalates into all-out warfare.

The prank-based, increasingly mean-spirited conflict that rages between the two groups is raucously hilarious, incorporating gross-out jokes, stoner comedy, a parade of affectionate pop-culture references and some superb slapstick. The improvisational, loose vibe of the jokes is complemented by tight pacing and editing, eliding the fiddly details of the pranks in favour of more laughs.

Stoller demonstrates an awareness of the misogyny and insularity that propels most frat-themed comedies, and splits the difference between embracing and interrogating those tendencies. Refreshingly, Bad Neighbours is very smart about how dumb it is.

The film refuses to paint either the slobs or the snobs as the villains. This sacrifices some of the natural dramatic tension of the audience wanting the “good guys” to win in favour of lending the conflict some welcome complexity. It’s effective for most of the running time, but the film stumbles in its final minutes, seemingly unsure of how to satisfactorily tie things together.

Bad Neighbours might not be original, but it’s a satisfying and consistently funny reminder of why comedy formulas are so enduring.

This review was originally published at The 500 Club.

3.5 stars

13 thoughts on “Bad Neighbours (2014)

  1. This movie was hilarious and something that I think all teens should see. Especially if they’re already in frats and think that it’s the way to live the rest of their lives like. Good review.

  2. I’m going to hold off reading the review until I see the film myself, but I’m so pleased to hear that you liked it. Makes me even more excited for it. I’ll be back once I’ve seen it!

    • I’ll see you then; hope you like it! I do wonder if maybe my low expectations made me overrate it, but, heck, I laughed a lot and that’s all that really matters with such movies!

    • I went in with the same assumption and really enjoyed it. It’s nothing incredibly sophisticated but it’s a funny comedy, and that’s what really matters!

  3. That is more positive than I expected. I think the trailers make this thing look wretched, but you offer it enough praise that I might give it a shot at some point. Great review!

    • I really thought this would suck. Like, honestly, I went to the press screening entirely because they had free beer and pizza. And then it turned out to be surprisingly great! (The beer and pizza was also great)

    • It’s an odd film that way; I think they’re just marketing it really badly, because everyone (including me!) seems to think it’s not going to be very good from the ads.

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