It's always a little embarrassing when I have to explain why I don't like mushrooms. Sometimes I just pretend I don't like the taste of them, or I have some random allergy, but then usually it's my wife who will perk up during a rare night out with another pair of suburban parents and announce with a fair amount of dry wit: "Oh, it's because of his stupid fraternity, that's why."
Yup, I am a former frat bro. And you probably wouldn't like mushrooms either if you were forced to eat them with hot sauce and cigarette ash while seated on a dorm-room heater dressed in several layers of clothing... for about six hours. They called it "Heat Night" and it was one of the many activities my fraternity claimed were traditions passed down from generation to generation. This is how they convinced you to be proud of eating a live goldfish while reciting the Greek alphabet backwards. It was important. It actually meant something. And at the time, it did. It meant everything.
But then you grow up, get married, have kids and you don't think about those days very much. That is, until a movie like Neighbors strolls into your life and completely pummels your funny bone with its brilliant take on the wild fraternity life and its sequel, the lame suburban-dad life. As someone who lived through one and is currently living through the other, Neighbors is not only wildly successful in its portrayal of the two completely different lifestyles, but stuffed in between its off-the-wall antics and nonstop hilarity is this surprisingly relatable message about the power of male bonding.
There's not much you need to know about Neighbors, but here are four things:
1. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play a young married couple with an adorable infant who spend all their savings on that perfect house in the suburbs only to watch it all crumble when the rowdiest fraternity ever moves into the house next door.
2. Zac Efron and Dave Franco star as the perfect-looking leaders of said fraternity. They throw massive parties, have ridiculously hot girlfriends and basically do anything they want whenever they want to.
3. Naturally problems arise between the frat bros and the married folks, leading to an all-out war featuring a series of escalating attacks from both sides, and so many funny moments you'll lose count.
4. In a movie that champions and analyzes the "bros before hos" mentality, it's actually Rose Byrne who prevails as MVP. She is a lightning bolt full of awesome, with incredible comic timing and endless facial expressions, and proof that even the most bro-tastic movies can still deliver terrific female roles.
There's drug use and nudity and a cornucopia of foul language, but behind its filth is this refreshing comedy that plays like gangbusters to both the bro crowd and the married crowd without singling either out as being the good guys or the bad guys. Neighbors is a film that celebrates the freedom of being young and reckless, but also the comfort and stability of being married with children.
As a former frat bro who's currently a suburban dad, I hear my friends -- many of whom are my fraternity brothers -- long for their youth all the time. They complain about the diapers, the day cares and the super-weird birthday parties, but there's this camaraderie to it. Like we're all in it together. Just like that night we all sat on a dorm-room heater and swore off mushrooms for the rest of our lives. Life is about finding your team. Finding those people you can count on.
Neighbors reminded me of that.
Following its premiere at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival, Neighbors will officially arrive in theaters on May 9. Check out more of our coverage of this year's SXSW Film Festival here.
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