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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Bad Neighbours (aka Neighbors) movie review: stubbing your brain

Bad Neighbours aka Neighbors red light

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.

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Bad Neighbours (aka Neighbors) (2014)
US/Can release: May 09 2014
UK/Ire release: May 03 2014

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated TW: may induce tonal whiplash
MPAA: rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout
BBFC: rated 15 (very strong language, drug use, strong sex, crude sex references, nudity)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • David

    A negative review of a genuinely funny movie from the same critic who praised the crapfest that was “47 Ronin”. Interesting.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Oh, no. How will Western Civilization ever survive!

    Anyway, one person’s “genuinely funny movie” is another person’s crapfest. And it’s not like the trailer for this was all that promising.

  • Bluejay

    People have different tastes and don’t have to agree on everything. Move along.

  • Obviously, I am not the critic for you. You have hundreds of others to choose from.

  • Yeah… I kinda figured… oh well!

  • ssss

    I just saw the movie, she is 100% correct. I give her credit for trying to rationalize what is a total crapfest by anyone definition.

  • RogerBW

    I’m reminded of reactions when the ZAZ comedy machine got fully started with Airplane!: it doesn’t matter if a joke falls flat, there’ll be another one along in a second. But Airplane! did manage to retain some vestige of a plot (well, it had one ready made in Zero Hour, which probably helped); it was the later ZAZ films that really fell apart. This is what happens when filmmakers grow up thinking of those as the height of sophistication, I guess.

  • But *Airplane* didn’t pretend to be offering any life truths, or characters even approaching human. It also had a sense of the absurd that American filmmakers have no idea how to pull off today.

  • Um, is this the whole movie review printed in its entirety? Wow i should be doing this smh

  • Why don’t you tell us what you liked about the movie?

  • I haven’t seen the movie. This complaint is about the majority of critics out there who don’t write very well. This is why they’re losing relevance; even in their disdain for a movie, a good critic can artfully argue it’s strengths and weaknesses much more illustriously, which is how critics build audience of their own vs. relying on click bait op ed so skewed in its approach that readers either zealously agree or vehemently disagree.

    I truly appreciated the days when reviews were more objective and critics actually enjoyed watching movies–even the ones they didn’t particularly like. Nowadays reviews read more like lovemaking or hate mail.

    I’ll see the movie and reply again, but NEIGHBORS currently touts 87% among critics and 98% among 39,492 users on Rotten Tomatoes. I love to read film analysis; it simply doesn’t exist in its unadulterated form and flair anymore :-(

  • Bluejay

    So you complain that the majority of critics don’t write well, you say they’re losing their relevance, and yet you imply that you’ll probably like the film because it’s got a high critic score on Rotten Tomatoes? You can’t dismiss critics as irrelevant and then invoke their authority at the same time. Pick one.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    It also had a sense of the absurd that American filmmakers have no idea how to pull off today.

    Including, ironically, Zucker, Abrahms, and Zucker.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    the days when reviews were more objective

    Oh, you’re one of those. Pro tip: there is not now, nor has there ever been, an objective review. to suggest otherwise is to signal that you don’t actually know what the word “objective” (or “subjective”, for that matter) actually means.

    NEIGHBORS currently touts 87% among critics

    Point of order: that’s actually 34 of 39 total reviews, with only 4 “top critics” weighing in.

    98% among 39,492 users

    98% of of those ~40k users have reported that the “Want to see” this movie, not that they actually liked it. Key difference there.

    Point being: don’t use words, or quote statistics, that you don’t understand.

  • Nope, sorry. You do not get to use my site to complain about some nebulous “majority of critics.” Engage with my review, or don’t post a comment.

  • Alas, yes.

  • Just write better, please?

  • Thanks for your wise sarcasm, oh perfect one.

  • Nope. I didn’t imply I’d like it–just stated where a majority of people (reviewers and audience) disagree with this review. Which means because it also isn’t penned well, I’m likely not to take this reviewer’s position very seriously.

  • Bluejay

    You keep NOT engaging with the actual review. You say it’s poorly written, you ask her to “write better,” you claim that it’s a “lazy scattered mess,” but you never bring up a single example to show why you think so. If there’s anyone here who’s making a lazy critique, it’s you.

    From where I stand, MaryAnn has written a perfectly focused review: she states her thesis — that Hollywood doesn’t make coherent comedies about psychologically believable people anymore, opting instead for incoherent hope-something-sticks messes with no discernible unifying approach or point of view — and then she proceeds to explain why she thinks Neighbors is an example of the latter.

    You may or may not agree with her actual subjective opinion, but she’s expressed that opinion perfectly well.

  • Bluejay

    And what if a majority of those positive reviews were ALSO “written poorly”? After all, that’s your claim: that the majority of critics don’t write well, and therefore are losing their relevance. And yet you’re still bringing numbers into the argument, which suggests that you’re still giving weight to critical consensus, despite all the supposed “poor writing” and “irrelevance.” Otherwise why bring up the numbers at all?

    How about you go ahead and watch the movie, and THEN come back and decide whether MaryAnn’s opinion is “credible.”

  • Danielm80

    I’m not following your reasoning. (Maybe that’s because your comments were badly written.) You seem to be saying:

    MaryAnn didn’t like a movie that other people enjoyed.

    Therefore she must be lying about her opinion.

    The only possible reason she would do that is because people love to read extremely negative reviews.

    There are several huge jumps in logic there. I’ve always found MaryAnn to be very honest about her opinions, whether or not she liked the movie. She’s also written plenty of reviews that were neither extremely positive or extremely negative. You can find them on the site without too much effort, because they have a yellow light right at the top.

    And I doubt you’ll trust my opinion, but I think that she writes exceptionally well–better than a few well-regarded critics who are paid for their work.

    But if you’re genuinely trying to help, rather than just insult a random critic on the Internet, you might try offering some specific pointers: Which sentences in the review were badly written and how could they be improved? If you just make vague statements suggesting that the review “isn’t penned well,” your comments are pretty much no use at all.

  • In what way would you like me to “write better”? Give me one specific example of what you think I’ve done wrong here, and how I could have done it “better.”

    I mean, pretend I am not a professional writer with a long list of credits across 20 years. Pretend I’m a kid just starting out who need some advice.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Well, of course it is not penned well. She obviously wrote it on a computer. ;-)

    But seriously, folks…

    It’s too bad for you that there is no such term as “keyboarded well” but that really should not make a big difference because what you’re trying to say is that it is not “written well”; an argument I would take more seriously if it came from, say, another film critic or a professional writer or an English teacher or even anyone who had enough initiative to give specific examples of how said review could be improved…

    But instead we get yet another variation on the old numbers argument which leads me to suspect that your true issue with the review is that you don’t agree with it. Granted, I would not mind seeing evidence that I am wrong about this but so far you have not provided any. Which makes me wonder why I should take your position credibly.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Hey, it could be worse. Back in 1980, the one comedy that a convention of movie theatre owners thought would be as successful as Airplane! was the Martin Mull movie Serial.


    Instead that movie fell into the same bit of oblivion that eventually swallowed such dubious “comedies” of the era as Wholly Moses!, Carbon Copy and The Last Married Couple in America.

  • sam stevenson

    Is it only amazing to me that movies can engender such blind love? I thought that was reserved just for political parties.

  • Hardcastle

    So you’re essentially saying this guy – who has as much freedom of opinion as you, can’t come on to this website, read a review and disagree with it’s content or views?
    Maybe you shouldn’t be a critic if you can’t take criticism – structured or not.
    Also, don’t tell someone they can’t use a website – who are you? The Internet Hitler? Jeez.

  • Bluejay

    Maybe you shouldn’t be a critic if you can’t take criticism – structured or not.

    People are free to criticize her. And SHE’S free to say what SHE thinks about their criticism: whether she finds it thoughtful, or constructive, or respectful, or in this case, insulting and condescending. Freedom of speech runs both ways, dude. It doesn’t mean one side gets to speak, and the other side just has to shut up and take it.

    Also, don’t tell someone they can’t use a website – who are you?

    She’s the person who owns and built the website. Jeez.

  • Who am I? I am the one who pays for and runs this website. No one has unconditional freedom of speech here except me. That guy can go start his own website and say whatever the hell he wants, even stuff that has no substance whatsoever. Which is what his “criticism” of my writing has been so far.

    But here? If he wants to criticism me, he has to actually offer some criticism. Which I invited him to do! He is welcome to offer criticism! But it has to have some sort of substance. I want something concrete and specific. If he isn’t a troll, he should be able to offer just one damn thing that qualifies as such.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Wow, you failed both “The Internet” and “Free Speech” in one post. Congratulations!

  • Beowlulf

    Go away!

  • Beowulf

    See my first comment above.

  • Paul

    Just finished writing a paper about this sort of thing, so I understand your point. But think a little more: not just political parties, but religion too (see MaryAnn’s review of Philomena for some food for thought about that), and come to that sport, and other fields. It doesn’t mean that everyone has only blind love, of course, and truth be told even that notion of “blind love” breaks down a bit when you start to look closer. But even so, it does illustrate the process whereby people incorporate their appreciation of something into their identity, and thus can get touchy if that something (and thus, by extension, themselves) is attacked in any way.

    Miles here is an “invested fan”. Although he first self-identifies as a “rebel disruptor” to go for some sense of outsider cool, he proceeds to undermine that by disrupting on behalf of the (Hollywood movie production) establishment that he aspires to.

  • But how can someone be an “invested fan” a movie he *hasn’t even seen yet*?

    The mind boggles.

  • RogerBW

    It seems that almost any film with a negative review will now get people popping up to defend it. They can’t all be studio shills, surely? But it’s not just the fanboy-friendly comic adaptations any more; it’s random disposable horror and comedy like this one.

  • Paul

    I didn’t say he was a fan of this movie. I noted that by his own admission (in his profile) he aspired to movie production. He is a “fan” of the establishment that produced this movie.

    So although the mind may boggle at someone attacking a review of a movie he hasn’t seen, both that, and my comment, do make some kind of sense.

  • Paul

    Exactly. And that’s why the profile here is key. It’s the fanboy mentality, but the object of investment is the industry, rather than specific products or genres of that industry.

  • To be clear, I wasn’t suggesting that *you* are the one who isn’t making sense. :->

  • victor

    movie sucked , what a mess , movie was gross , pathetic , and a down right lame comedy , after seeing it I was like was that even a comedy I think I laughed twice , both the parents came off like idiots , almost every thing was so unbelievable , I was like that’s really going to happen , seems this movie was aimed at people with no intelligence what so ever , actually compared to half descent comedies like knocked up and super bad this came off like a cash grab take the money and run kind of deal


    Garbage for the mind, brain and spirit. Rots the psyche and putrefies
    the soul. Illuminati references everywhere! Baby eating a rubber! Se$
    in front of a baby! One eyed baby on the computer screen. Messed up
    Weed/Pot everywhere – its actually a drug and will kill you
    slowly…causing brain problems, emotional issues, psych. issues, organ
    and majority liver issues, Alzheimer’s. Disgusting movie with lots of
    lame se$ references, horrible language, and little lame unclothed
    !…not to mention boring with two laughs..so stupid to see people have
    been duped by it and take their kids and teens to it and tell them to
    sit through it for their own selfish reasons!!

  • Jim

    Shame on the baby’s parents who allowed their child to be in such a disgusting movie with huge Illuminati references and basically meant to rot people’s minds – especially the youth’s. These are not movies – these are Hollywood how to’s – amorality and cruelty and lack of conscience.

  • Yolanda

    It’s not people defending it – they are HIRED to write negating and defensive comments to change people’s minds so they go watch garbage for your mind, body, spirit and psyche. Watching this made me sad for humankind. F&*CKIluminati

  • kim

    Because its a hired writer to change the perspective of the people that may want to go watch it and to change everyone’s thoughts who come here and want to see opinions or comments. FAKE.

  • jeywn

    I haven’t seen this movie, nor do I intend to. The critic makes a legitimate case why this movie should be avoided. Very well-written review.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Did you just self-censor the word “sex”? Are you 11?

    I’ve seen some strange spam comments, but this one is almost artistic in its absurdity.

  • I dunno if it was spam, per se, but the same person posted similar comments under different names. I deleted all of them.

  • This was the role Zac Efron was born to play. I am getting pretty bored of Seth Rogan’s one character that he plays in every movie, but it still worked here, but really the best part was Efron – he was just the right mix of ridiculous, but they still portrayed him as a human in a bro-kinda way (and no, I’m not a lovestruck High School Musical fan).

    I love the way Efron’s character throws himself into everything that frat does as a ‘true believer’ in contrast to the younger Franco’s character who kind of gets that it’s all BS. That scene where they’re talking about past frat legends who invented beer pong was so realistic, I can think of dozens of characters from college that probably did that same speech (also props for going old school with David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch” for that scene.)

    All the party scenes were great, my personal favorite was the pool party they throw after their dildo fundraiser, with “All Night” by Icona Pop blasting and Zac Efron’s smug party face as he looks at Rogan and Byrne’s characters…you can practically hear her saying “keep it down!” in your own head haha.

    Of course the final, best scene is when they’re standing shirtless outside of Abercrombie – probably one of the few times Rogan isn’t annoying in the movie and a great snapshot of the film as a whole.

  • debs

    Whole-heartedly agree, it really was the most absurd, disgusting,crude, sexist, movie i have ever seen, pathetic lame story-line, other than the baby there was not one character i could feel any empathy for, or any feelings whatsoever, just vile, foul-mouthed, awful characters in an awful film, and it even managed to put me off Zac Efron, and I have no desire to see him in any other film following that, I can t see that it has helped his career!!!

  • debs

    Are you for real? What college did you go to? Zac Efron had a vile character, most scenes were ridiculous,exaggerated and over acted in a pathetic attempt to try and make them them funny, which they were not! not one nice character in the movie,they were all obnoxious as was the dialogue.

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