Bad Neighbours (aka Neighbors) movie review: stubbing your brain
A mess not by accident but by design. It’s meant to be a ton of stuff thrown against the wall in the hope that some of it will momentarily distract you into involuntary laughter.
I’m “biast” (pro):
I like Zac Efron and Rose Byrne, and I’m starting to warm to Seth Rogen
I’m “biast” (con): not a fan of grossout humor
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Hollywood doesn’t make comedies anymore. Instead, it simply throws a ton of stuff up against the wall and hopes that some of it momentarily distracts you into involuntary laughter, in the same way that stubbing your toe momentarily distracts you with pain. Hollywood figures you don’t care if Scene A doesn’t much connect to Scene B, and that Scene C doesn’t build on either as it delivers what it hopes you will take as a punchline to both. Hollywood hopes that you won’t care that some of the attempts at comedy demand that you understand human nature, and that some of it desperately wishes that you will pretend you don’t know how people and the world work, even if both kinds of joking is present at the same time.
Hollywood doesn’t make comedies anymore. It makes scarecrows to shoo you away from any actual thought that might demand more than two seconds of your attention. It makes rattles for grownups that to shake in your face and make you stop crying about whatever is bothering you. It might even work! But it is an empty experience.
Movies like Bad Neighbours — aka Neighbors in North America — aren’t a mess by accident, then, but by design, such as that design is. It doesn’t matter than it doesn’t seem to have any idea who its audience is, because it actually believes that a little bit of something for anyone above the age of 12 is totally fine. Is it making fun of 30something Mac (Seth Rogen: This Is the End, For a Good Time, Call…) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne: Insidious: Chapter 2, The Internship) for having turned into such homebody dorks since they had their baby, Stella (Zoey and Elise Vargas), especially compared to the funtime party fraternity dudes — led by Teddy (Zac Efron: That Awkward Moment, Parkland) and Pete (Dave Franco: The Lego Movie, Now You See Me) — who’ve just moved in next door? Or is it celebrating how the things we enjoy doing change as we get older and that’s perfectly cool and actually kind of awesome, to discover that you can grow? Is it partying hard with the frat and grooving with their carefree approach to education, or is it crushing the illusions of frat boys? Yes and yes and yes and yes. Why settle on one point of view when we can get all perspectives, even if they’re completely contradictory, and the movie has to do a complete 180 to sudden start in with a new attitude?
I tried to just go with it for as long as I could. I tried to let it go when the script — by newbies Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien — would have us believe that the frat had seduced all other residents besides the Radners in this quiet street so that no one would mind their obnoxiously loud, all-night parties, even if that is so implausible as to defy the imagination. (Not one single other neighbor appears onscreen except in the distance, getting hugged by a frat boy or somesuch.) I tried to let it go when the script contrived in the most ridiculous way to keep the cops out of the entire scenario. There’d be no movie without either of these two absurdities — which would have been fine with me — so, I tried to let it go. But then so much of the movie is crap like this: When Mac and Kelly, deep into their feud with the frat over the noise, have sex in front of a window facing the frat house — and with not much distance between the houses — they don’t even close the curtains. It’s not like they’re meant to be exposing themselves to the frat as some sort of fuck-you. It’s just a cheap, low blow that steals sympathy from the Radners, humiliating them in the eyes of the frat and the audience, at a moment when we’re supposed to be on their side.
For while during Bad Neighbours, I had been feeling fairly not-disinclined toward the film for managing to be not-sexist and actually sorta sex-positive, and only a tiny bit homophobic. But then it threw all that away in a series of unnecessary grossouts. Well, I say “unnecessary” because I’m thinking old-school, in which a movie, even a comedy, should have some sort of cohesion from moment to moment — a movie can work either as cartoonish or realistic, but not both at the same time. This is not something that concerns Hollywood comedies anymore… but it doesn’t mean I have to go along with it. And I don’t. It doesn’t work for me. If you want me to sympathize with a character, your movie cannot go shitting all over him or her in the next scene.
And then there are moments during the finale, the ultimate confrontation between frat and family, in which director Nicholas Stoller (The Five-Year Engagement, Get Him to the Greek) makes a few feints toward his movie becoming a parody of a thriller. Now that would have been a great frame for a frat-vs-family comedy! But I’m not even sure if those hints were intentional on Stoller’s part… and even they were, it’s still only one more incongruous ingredient tossed into the pot.