Wordsworth is no doubt turning over in his grave, knowing that his staid, elegant adage – “the child is father of the man” – has just gotten a 21st-century, frat-boy comedy makeover. Directed by Nicholas Stoller, Neighbors sledgehammers home the point that people’s adult actions are greatly imbued with their childhood behaviors. And because the movie’s married couple who validates this poetic adage are Mac Radner (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), you know heavy regression into immaturity will be involved.
What sets the Radners’ extended tantrum in motion is the arrival of their new next-door neighbors, a group of unruly Delta Psi Beta fraternity brothers who study at a nearby college. The parallels are clear. The Radners possess new “adult” status as parents to an angelically behaved infant girl, and now, suddenly, they’ve inherited a horde of male children and their girlfriends whom they must now keep in line.
Will the grown-ups vanquish the childish lads’ extreme party mentality whose decibel levels know no bounds and keep the Radners from their sleep? That question requires assessing how mature, at the core, the Radners are. The answer isn’t pretty.
The fraternity’s president is Teddy (Zac Efron), a senior who fervidly expounds on the do-or-die obligations among Delta Psi’s brothers, but has no regard for the well-being of his neighbors. When the Radners pay a late-night visit to the frat house during its first noise-explosive shindig – their plan is simply to tell the guys to “keep it down” and offer them a welcome-to-the-neighborhood joint to demonstrate their coolness level – the couple lets their dormant wildness get the better of them. They join the party and stay until daylight.
Their inability to resist participating cleverly sets up the dramatic fuel: the Radners possess their own brand of raucous, childish mentality that might help them get rid of their nemeses. In the ensuing game of one-upmanship – Mac and Kelly enlist key helpers (Ike Barinholtz), as does Teddy (Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse) – retaliatory actions become increasingly gross and desperate. Crude topiary shrubbery and displays of sexuality are involved.
Although coarse, college-centric mayhem has the potential to become classic movie fare – think Animal House – Neighbors is smarter than that. It pits the wise Senex archetype – here, it’s more or less Mac who represents irritating “old guy” habits, such as wanting to sleep through the night – against the Martial me-first, ego-rampant, spoiled brat represented by Teddy.
However, there’s a spillover. Teddy, whose academic accomplishments could fit into a thimble, is nonetheless the proverbial CEO of an organization which values decades of tradition and brotherly loyalty, in which he takes great pride. In his own way, despite his being a “puer” or eternal youth, he’s an old man. And both Mac – he has “puer” to spare – and Kelly have enough of the impish Gemini Trickster archetype in them, as well as some potent Mars aggression, to give Teddy and his tribe a run for their money.
In a clever twist, brothers – here the fraternity members – are ruled by Gemini, which also rules neighbors and brain power. In Neighbors, people do stupid things. The movie, though, is wicked smart.
Astrology Film Rating: ☿♂♄ (Mercury, Mars, Saturn)