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Trading bongs for babies

Raunchy comedy casts a surprisingly astute eye on young parents whose partying pasts are behind them

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"Youth is wasted on the young."

-- George Bernard Shaw


"Of course you know: this means war."

-- Bugs Bunny


The above quotes pretty well sum up the major motifs in movie comedies these days. Especially the first one.

Guys like Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler have almost made careers staking out the turf where aging heroes cling doggedly to the irresponsible delights of youth. (See: Pineapple Express; Knocked Up; That's My Boy; and, if you can stomach them, Grown Ups 1 and 2.)

With Sandler movies, the theme generally gets played out with a somewhat nauseating sense of nostalgia. The younger, hipper Rogen is generally more willing to engage in self-mockery (for example, when his stoner/process-server character in Pineapple Express shows up at a high school to pick up his dangerously young girlfriend).

This regressive tendency is addressed front and centre in director Nicholas Stoller's Neighbors, casting Rogen as Mac, a new dad trying to make the best of his responsibilities to his adorable daughter Stella (played by twins Elise and Zoey Vargas) and his lovely, somewhat bored wife Kelly (Rose Byrne).

Boredom becomes the least of their problems when the house next door is taken over by a fraternity, overseen by the charismatic Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron). Teddy is intent on leaving his mark on frat culture, insisting it was their house that invented breakthroughs such as the toga party and beer pong.

For their baby daughter's sake, Mac and Kelly want to keep a lid on the frat's penchant for noisy parties and noisome habits. But at the same time, they are seduced by Teddy and company, who are still enjoying the sexy-druggy-rock-'n'-rolly lifestyle Mac and Kelly have left behind, more or less.

But when you're a caring parent, eventually the baby wins. Things get sour between Teddy and Mac, and soon it's a pitched battle between the two parties.

The parents deploy dirty tricks and divisive tactics. (Kelly proves surprisingly adept at exploiting romantic tensions in the frat house.) Teddy responds with even dirtier tricks, one of which involves creative use of automotive air bags.

It makes for some rude fun. Director Stoller knows a thing or two about directing raunchy comedies (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek) and, certainly, Rogen knows a lot about carrying them. The guy incessantly burbles jokes like a coked-up comedy hack at a writer's session. Between them, they hit more than miss, with gags involving sex toys, baby monitors and Batman preferences: Keaton vs. Bale.

The surprises come courtesy of Efron, who brings a certain scary intensity to this frat kingpin (he might make a decent all-out villain one day), and especially Byrne.

In the movie Bridesmaids, Byrne had to play Margaret Dumont, the upper-crust square to Kristen Wiig's anything-for-a-laugh Groucho figure. Turns out Byrne is willing to do anything for a laugh too, which she demonstrates in a scene detailing exactly what can go wrong when you neglect to nurse the baby overnight, your breast milk has dangerously high alcohol levels and the breast pump gets busted.

Stoller stacks the comedy deck with solid support from Dave Franco as Teddy's loyal lieutenant, Ike Barinholtz and Carla Gallo as Mac and Kelly's embattled allies, and Lisa Kudrow as a college dean who could give everyone a master class on avoiding responsibility.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 9, 2014 D1

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