When The Desolation of Smaug was released, Mark Kermode went on air at the BBC to say it was the first time he ‘got’ Peter Jackson. He finally saw the appeal and thoroughly enjoyed the result. With Bad Neighbours I can attempt to say, after Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek and The Five-Year Engagement that I finally ‘get’ Nick Stoller. There’s no doubting his work is on the whole incredibly funny, but often the films can seem empty, hollow attempts at engaging with deeper emotional concepts.
So what was different with this new comedy? The most obvious change is the setting, which, unlike any of his former films, is consistently grounded in tranquil suburbs as opposed to on-the-road antics or idyllic Hawaiian resorts. The plot here traces the protracted and hilarious antagonism between new parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) against the nearby fraternity (led by a consistently topless Zach Efron), and manages to have the self-restraint never to deviate from that central theme. The shenanigans are lively, watchable and teased out by a strong supportive cast, and if the audience aren’t laughing at the visual gags they’re likely to be wincing at the excruciatingly vivid scene choices, particularly in the domestic life that Rogen and Byrne are creating.
What comes through in Bad Neighbours is a strong, thematic foundation that is readily appealing to those in both their early 20s and their early 30s. The delta-sci frat are no faceless group of boozing weed-smokers but often have real, emotional issues as they deal with the fact that the big bad world is ready to spit them into wider uncertainty. Students in particular will feel connect especially with Dave Franco’s Pete as he struggles to decide between fraternal party antics and the desire for a comfortable career. Nuances like this add an extra weight to what could easily be a drab series of different practical jokes.
Equally Rogen and Byrne lay out the toils and woes of a new family torn between the two equally powerful desires – the first being the need to feel young again and the other that they wish to feel capable of handling their new responsibilities as parents. It is sentimental and universal, and drives much of the film’s narrative in a readily engaging way. Byrne and Rogen undoubtedly have chemistry, and some of the film’s most hilarious episodes come not in the frat-house but instead in this newly constructed domestic environment.
The film may have suffered, however, from being the first Rogen-headed movie since This is the End last year. The infinitely successful self-parody of that film has perhaps weakened Rogen’s credibility, and no matter how many pot-fuelled emotional reconciliations he attempts it is difficult to navigate past the actor’s comedic prowess and see him as a young father. The film suffers for this, and loses perhaps some of the integrity it aspires towards as a result.
That said there’s no escaping the fact that Bad Neighbours is incredibly funny. The jokes are often expected and trope-esque but that does not dampen their impact – from the opening moment right to the conclusion you will be chuckling along with everyone else and, when not, still finding something very familiar about the characters on screen.