Neighbors


Are you talking to Zac Efron?

Are you talking to Zac Efron?

(2014) Comedy (Universal) Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jerrod Carmichael, Brian Huskey, Carla Gallo, Halston Sage, Craig Roberts, Ali Cobrin, Kira Sternbach, Steven Michael Eich, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson, Lisa Kudrow, Jason Mantzoukas, Liz Cackowski, Randall Park, Natasha Leggero. Directed by Nicholas Stoller

Before the Second World War, the desirable places to live were in the cities. After all, they were close to jobs and all the cities had to offer in terms of entertainment and culture. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Postwar era – people began to move out of cities and into the suburbs. They wanted yards. They wanted families. They wanted space.

Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) Radner want all that. And, at last, they have it. With a beautiful baby daughter named Stella, a gorgeous house in the ‘burbs of a small college town and a bright future ahead, they have everything they’ve always wanted and more.

Then their new neighbors move in and it turns out to be a fraternity house. Gamely, they decide to meet their new neighbors and show how “cool” and “down with it” they are which is the reality of a 30-something trying to impress a 20-something with how knowledgeable they are about current trends, slang and culture which, as everyone who’s ever been a 30-something knows, is doomed to fail miserably. The president of the frat, Teddy (Efron) is amiable enough and advised by his best bro and right-hand vice-president Pete (Franco) decides to make nice with the neighbors, inviting them to a blow-out party. They leave the next morning, promising to call Teddy first if they get too loud.

Of course, the next time they get too loud Mac and Kelly’s repeated phone calls go unanswered and they are forced to call the cops in the form of perhaps the most incompetent policeman ever, Officer Watkins (Buress) who rats out the chagrined couple to the frat. From then on, it’s war.

It becomes an endless barrage of escalating pranks. It gets to the point that the couple desperately attempt to sell their house but as the supercilious real estate agent (Cackowski) informs them, nobody will buy a house next to a frat. They even go to the university for relief, but the snooty dean (Kudrow) is more concerned with headlines than actual issues and the headline “Frat keeps couple and baby awake” isn’t likely to cause problems for the University. Finally, Mac and Kelly decide to go on the offensive with the emphasis on “offense.” They become aware that the frat has two strikes against them and should there be another incident, they’ll be dissolved. It’s time to pull out all the stops.

Seth Rogen has been making a career out of playing the amiable, good-hearted stoner and there’s no reason for him to deviate from that course here. What’s different is that he’s a little older now and that guys of his generation are becoming husbands and fathers and are having to forego the life of partying that is part of being young and without responsibility.

And that is the crux of the matter here. Both Mac and Kelly are facing a turning point in their lives; they have a life and a responsibility to provide for someone completely dependent on them. They are moving kicking and screaming into adulthood and they are taking one last wistful look at the life they once had. It is to their credit (and the filmmakers) that they end up embracing their responsibilities rather than running away as is often the case in Hollywood (and in life as well). The frat represents freedom to a certain extent and who wouldn’t be tempted?

The lion’s share of the funny stuff go to Rogen, Efron (who shows surprisingly deft comic touch here) and Byrne. Franco and Teddy’s inner circle – Scoonie (Mintz-Plasse) and Garf (Carmichael) – have little to do except look…er, stoned. And therein lies some of the movie’s great failings.

The movie can be funny and some of the pranks, although not always realistic as in the case of the funniest one involving an automotive safety feature. The problem here is that it’s a bit of a one-trick pony – Rogen consumes enough weed to make Bill O’Reilly’s intake look like both Cheech and Chong. I’m okay with stoner humor but one of the issues I have with it is that there is such an overreliance on repetition. It’s a whole lot funnier when you’re baked.

Some critics have been giving this a pass and far be it for me to dispute matters of personal taste but I don’t see anything really innovative here. I’m one of those killjoys who think that a good comedy shouldn’t only be funny when you’re stoned. Call me a philistine if you like.

REASONS TO GO: Some really funny moments. Captures the moment of maturity nicely.

REASONS TO STAY: Overkill on weed humor. One-trick pony. Adds nothing new.

FAMILY VALUES: All sorts of crude content, foul language, sexual content, drug use and graphic nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Real life couple Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman filmed a cameo as Scoonie’s parents but it was left on the cutting room floor.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/20/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The ‘Burbs

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Dom Hemingway

Be Good


Having a baby can be fun!

Having a baby can be fun!

(2012) Dramedy (Obrigado) Thomas J. Madden, Amy Seimetz, Tessa Day Looby, Todd Looby, Billy Phelan, Quentin Hirsley, Jim Jacob, Kathryn Henderson, Paul Gordon, Joe Swanberg, David Leonard, J.D. Won. Directed by Todd Looby

 Florida Film Festival 2013

Parenthood has become a very different proposition in 2013. The economic realities of having a baby in the 21st century are sobering for anyone, let alone a young family that isn’t pulling in big bucks.

Mary (Seimetz) is getting ready for her first day back at work for a charitable foundation benefitting Guatemalan children after having been out six months on maternity leave. Her husband Paul (Madden), an independent filmmaker who has had much more critical praise than financial success, is staying home watching baby Pearl (director Looby’s real-life daughter Tessa) while he writes his latest screenplay on a Mexican anti-drug crusader known as El Flaco. He figures he’ll do this while Pearl is taking her naps.

Unfortunately Pearl isn’t inclined to co-operate as baby’s are wont to do so Paul slowly begins to lose focus. She isn’t sleeping much at night either so Paul exiles himself to the couch to catch what rest he can. In the meantime, Mary is growing more and more frustrated with Paul’s inability to make money and her own exile at work. She wants very much to spend more time bonding with her baby – an imperative most moms can relate to I’m sure. Something’s got to give.

Looby is developing a reputation on the film festival circuit as a promising young storyteller and this is the kind of film that can enhance a reputation like that. This isn’t some Hollywood idealized look at how babies transform the life of a young couple – they do of course but not always in positive ways. Like anything else, parenting is an imperfect pursuit because people are imperfect. Those first couple of years of having a baby is exhausting; it’s a wonder any of us survive it. Exhausted people have a tendency to take out their frustrations in unhealthy ways.

Paul and Mary are basically good people who are in a situation where Mary is forced to be the provider, a situation not as unusual as it once was. The benefits she gets through her job are the only thing making it possible to have Pearl. The medical expenses of pregnancy, delivery and post-natal care alone are staggering without insurance. The toll taking care of a small creature who is completely dependent on you is significant as well; it wears one down.

This isn’t a depressing movie by any means – there’s a lot of love here. Looby based the film on his own experiences and in fact wrote and directed the movie while being a house husband, his wife working in much the same manner Mary does here (there’s an amusing scene where Mary finds a quiet store room to do her breast pumping and a co-worker walks in on her – one wonders how much biography is going on as opposed to fiction). I think he accurately captures the frustrations of new parents but also the rewards of newly parenting.

This isn’t going to rewrite the book on movies about new parents but by the same token it will leave you feeling fondly towards the characters and the situation. While new parents might well use it as a partial primer as to what to expect (and understand that every baby is different as is pointed out poignantly during a scene in which real life director Swanberg, playing himself, runs into Paul outside of a doctor’s office) this may well prove more useful as a movie about the changing roles of men and women in relationships. Either way, kudos to the filmmaker for keeping it real – something that is much harder to do than you might think.

REASONS TO GO: Realistic look at the obstacles facing new parents.

REASONS TO STAY: Not necessarily inspirational nor instructional. Perhaps a bit too indie-centric.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a bit of language and some sexuality but not a lot.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film’s assertion that Joe directed eight movies in the six months since his baby was born is a bit of a dig at the real Joe Swanberg’s prolific output of 14 movies before he turned 30.

CRITICAL MASS: There have been no reviews published for the film for either Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Beautiful Belly

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Starbuck and more coverage of the 2013 Florida Film Festival!