There are some things that no matter how much American media I’m exposed to, just never make much sense to me. One such US-specific cultural practice is that of fraternities. I can’t immediately recall any American movie or TV show set in a college that didn’t prominently feature them. I just don’t get the appeal. They seem mostly awful yet so many if not all the characters regard them with the utmost importance. Nicholas Stoller’s (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) newest comedy Bad Neighbours is no exception (it’s just called Neighbors in the US, as Australian soaps are apparently something they don’t have).
Seth Rogen’s been expanding his dramatic range a little recently in the likes of Take this Waltz and glancing at the poster it looked like this might be a slightly different comedy role for him, as rather than playing the hard-partying, pot-smoking college boy, he’s playing the older role of a married man with a new born baby (references to him being ‘old’ are always mentioned, even though Rogen was only 31 when this was released. Despite his more outwardly ‘mature’ position in life though, Rogen is just yet again playing the same character he has many times before, a fact he himself mocked in last year’s This is the End.
Zac Efron plays the frat-house president who moves in next door to the new parents to begin a year of noisy parties. Again, I‘m genuinely confused as to where these frat boys get their money from, as they’re apparently able to purchase vast amounts of drugs, alcohol and fireworks, not to mention sound systems and TVs, to party every night. After initially trying to befriend the fraternity (by giving them weed, how else?) things turn sour when Rogen and his wife (gamely played by Rose Byrne) call the police to complain about the noise.
The bulk of the film is then essentially a series of one-upmanship contests as the boys on one side try to make life hell for the parents next door while they in turn try everything they can to get the fraternity kicked out.
Now here is the major issue at the heart of Bad Neighbours; the warring factions are portrayed as essentially ‘as bad as each other’ or ‘on a level playing field’ when that’s just not the case. Rogen and Byrne have a perfectly reasonable point; they are trying to raise a child and can’t do so with the constant disturbances next door. They might resort to extreme measures later but they’ve got nothing on their rivals. Efron and his cohorts are a horrible bunch of scumbags whose un-called for pranks on more than one occasion seriously put the baby’s life in danger, there’s even a seriously misplaced joke about the baby catching an STD. Efron is a hateful bastard, not a ‘lovable joker’ type, and the film’s way of disguising this is to have him take his shirt off repeatedly. He deserves to be in prison by the film’s conclusion. Among the most troubling parts is a sub-plot involving Submarine star Craig Roberts as a freshman, we get a few clips of the disgusting way they treat him, and even make a joke about the fact they sexually assaulted him at one point. That the film tries to gain sympathy for Efron via a later conversation with him is very poorly thought out.
Having said all of this though, the film is, admittedly, quite funny in places. There are a number of exchanges that feel improvised, such as a digression about actors playing Batman, that’s very amusing, but the film’s biggest laughs actually tend to come from bouts of physical comedy. A fight scene towards the end demonstrates some excellent comic timing.
Unfortunately, the film also allows itself an absurd number of dick jokes, nearly every jibe the fraternity makes to themselves is dick related. Two of Efron’s main guys, played by Dave Franco and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are defined by the following traits; Franco; is able to attain an instant erection at will, Mintz-Plasse; has an unnaturally large penis. If you find that kind of lowbrow humour, that’s often repeated, inherently funny well then maybe this movie is for you.
Rogen could sleepwalk his way through a role like this nowadays but still seems to give it his all, and Rose Byrne is always his equal in this film, even if they do rely too much on just filling their dialogue with swear words for humour. It’s also a much better example of how Efron can break out of his tween star image than the dire That Awkward Moment, but none of the laughs found in Bad Neighbours can excuse its core problems.