If you listened only to anti–Seth Rogen crusader Rex Reed, who finds him “nauseating,” you’d be under the impression that the comic actor's film career has been about the portrayal of one “disgusting moron” after another.
And though the consensus among the generally Rogen-friendly public does support the idea that the movies’ current favorite everyschlub has built a screen presence based on a few key personality traits, namely being a goof and a stoner, if it ended there Rogen would just be Pauly Shore 2014. And that’s not what’s going on. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The more successful comedies starring Rogen present him as a young man inching his way toward 30 and beyond, encountering obstacles that require him to make incremental breaks with extended adolescence: unexpected pregnancy (Knocked Up), dealing with a gravely ill friend (50/50), establishing autonomy from and adult friendship with an overly-connected mother (The Guilt Trip, a rare Green Hornet-level box-office failure), and the apocalypse as metaphor for estrangement among a group of formerly close friends (This Is The End). Here he has to separate himself from needing the approval of college students ten years his junior and acknowledge the uncomfortable fact that he “like[s] old people sh#% better than young people sh#%.”
As married father and office drone Mac, Rogen makes the mistake of weed-welcoming a fraternity that moves into the house next door to the home he shares with wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) and their baby daughter. Putting on a cooler, younger face, decorated with signifiers like neon Wayfarers and a baseball cap with an unbent brim, the couple party with and win over the boys. “You're not old," says frat president Teddy (Zac Efron) to Mac. "You’re like a senior.” Mac's swooning response: "Really?"
The parties continue, the couple realizes they'll never sleep again if the animal house refuses to quiet down, and angry battle lines are drawn. Sabotage ensues.
The calcification and laziness of the all-dude comedy, as well as the need on the part of studios to reproduce The Hangover franchise at any cost, gets a sneaky kick to the balls here, because director Nicholas Stoller and writers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien aren't all that interested in strip-mining the privilege of idiots. The movie aims for smarter (it looks and feels more like a cool HBO single-camera sitcom; there's even a shout-out to Girls) and, as occasionally messy as the final product sometimes is, they hit their target.
The entitled frat boys display flashes of yearning, fear, repression, career-anxiety and, even more slyly, some thin-skinned Millenial fragility (a topic ripe for parody and a million butthurt reactions). And as the married couple, Rogen and Byrne are a true team rather than raging man-doofus/sensible wife cliché-bots. The film knows this, has gone the extra inch in allowing its female lead a more complex humanity, and gives them a chance to discuss it openly in a clever, gentle roast of actor Kevin James. Neighbors presents itself in a comfortingly youthful package, but knows when its time to leave the bro-downs -- if not the weed -- behind. A decade from now, when Rogen needs a mid-life crisis movie, Stoller, Cohen and O'Brien should be the ones in charge.