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.