Bad Neighbours, film review: Slapstick scenes are juvenile but still have a comic kick

4.00

(15) Nicholas Stoller, 97 mins Starring: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Dave Franco

There have been plenty of generational comedies about the attrition between young and old. Bad Neighbours is something different. It is about the tensions between the young… and the just a little bit older. The film combines gross-out, Animal House-style frat humour with reflective, rites-of-passage observation about the transition to adulthood. Sharply directed and with effective comic performances from Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, it has a wit and even an occasional tenderness that belie its near-constant crudity.

Rogen and Rose Byrne play Mac and Kelly, a married couple with a doe-eyed baby daughter and a new home (into which they have sunk all their savings) in the suburbs. Zac Efron is Teddy, the president of a student fraternity that, somewhat improbably, has just taken over the house next door. Relations between the new neighbours cool very quickly and soon open warfare is declared.

Mac and Kelly's sex life is continually undermined by the presence of the baby. They can't go out with their friends, either. They are too tired and don't have reliable babysitters. Their ambitions of taking their daughter with them to a rave are soon dashed when they realise how much baby paraphernalia they will need.

Teddy and his friends are young and muscular with perfectly toned bodies. While Mac and Kelly reluctantly adjust to parenthood and sagging physiques, the students throw ever more outrageous and hedonistic parties. Mac and Kelly are regarded by the neighbours as if they are geriatrics. In fact, they are in their 30s. They may now be living a Brady Bunch life but they cling to the notion that they are as carefree and wild as they were in their late teens.

The film makes some telling points about the inability of the young married couple to accept adult responsibility. They want to have it both ways – to party just as wildly as the neighbours but, at the same time, to have the peace and quiet their baby needs to sleep.

The screenplay by Andrew J Cohen and Brendan O'Brien doesn't skimp on obscenity. Much of the humour is crass and scatological. There are jokes about the baby mistaking her father's testicles for bouncing balls and condoms for balloons. Gags involving erectile dysfunction and alcohol-infused breast milk aren't in short supply, either.

Bad Neighbours would make very gruesome viewing if it wasn't for the two male leads. Like Jack Black, Rogen has the ability to portray boorish characters without seeming boorish himself. Here, he is continually exposing his flesh (he is very flabby), talking dirty to his wife and trying to "hang" with the college kids. There is something pathetic and potentially creepy about the way he tries to ingratiate himself with the neighbours by behaving like a teen brat, yet he never forfeits our sympathy.

Growing pains: Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen star as husband and wife Growing pains: Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen star as husband and wife
Efron's character is like a priapic Peter Pan. He clings to his youth. It hasn't occurred to him that one day, in the not too distant future, he will be confronted with the same dilemmas as Mac and Kelly. He can't stay a student forever. If his grade point average and exam results aren't high enough, his prospects will diminish quickly. All that may be left for him is the uncertain future of the male underwear model at Abercrombie and Fitch. His ambitions, though, don't stretch beyond throwing the "most epic party" in the history of the Delta Psi fraternity. Efron plays him with an engaging mix of narcissism, cunning, crassness and (when you least expect it) good manners.

Like the characters, the film-makers can't quite work out which direction to go in. On the one hand, they're making a goofy comedy aimed at an undiscerning teen audience who might think that gags about vomiting in boots or swallowing ping-pong balls are funny. On the other, they try to deal with some of the "big" issues facing first-time parents no longer able to think exclusively about themselves. Their confusion gives the film its uncertain tone.

Byrne is good value as Rogen's long-suffering wife but one of the stranger aspects of Bad Neighbours is that the men seem more interested in each other than they do in the women in their lives. This is a point of principle for the fraternity members: "Bros before hoes," is one of their typically sexist slogans.

What makes Bad Neighbours so enjoyable in spite of its bottom-feeding instincts and contradictions is its cheerfulness. Even at its grimmest, the film retains a sunny disposition. Both sets of characters endure (and inflict) all sorts of suffering. They have to deal with everything from burst pipes to sexual betrayal, from clearing up mountains of trash to coping with huge hangovers. As in old Hollywood screwball comedies, the tempo is brisk. That means there are few longueurs, but also that when the jokes fall flat (for example, the fraternity members making plaster casts of their private parts), we quickly move on to something better. The film-makers also know the value of Mack Sennett-style slapstick. The scenes of exploding airbags hidden under cushions, or of Efron and Rogen having an absurdly overwrought fist fight, may be juvenile in the extreme but, when the timing is right, they still have a comic kick.

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral