My first few years in college the weekend routine was pretty set: after dinner my friends and I would meet up in someone’s dorm room to hang out, and then at some point everyone would want to head to the south end of campus to go to a big party. That last step never made sense to me. Once everyone got down to the fratty end of campus they would (for the most part) end up talking to the same people that they had been hanging out with before they trekked a mile in Ohio’s winter sludge, but now they were doing so in a more crowded space. Plus there more jerks around, and a higher risk of drama, not to mention omnipresent worries about date rape. And all of these smart women I knew put on uncomfortable shoes to go do this?
When I was first moved to Portland I no longer wanted to be the guy who was a stick in the mud. I didn’t want to be the guy who people thought “hated fun” (which I was definitely accused of when I was in college.) So I went to every party I was invited to. And what I found out was that I wasn’t wrong all those times I stayed home, because a lot of parties were a pain in the ass. Of course, sometimes they were great, but you never knew ahead of time which ones were going to have weird mixes of awkward people and which ones were going to be chill. Part of my maturation process was to go from a person who wouldn’t party (but kind of suspected he was missing out), to a person who did go to parties (but sometimes wished he was at home doing something that was less of a hassle), to a person who knows when he’s in the mood for it or not, and who can cut his losses without feeling like the grass is greener on either side.
Which is why Neighbors is the first frat party comedy I can think of that I’ve really liked. Your Animal Houses and your Revenge of the Nerds are always on the side of the frats, showing them as fun-loving free spirits, without questioning any part of their pursuit of hedonism. That’s not for me; I’ve never been able to look at all that binge drinking as just a joke. But at the same time you don’t want to make a movie that’s just about tight asses shutting down the free spirits, because that’s not fun, either. Neighbors gets around this by framing the frat party through a young couple who lives next door. This couple has partied; some part of them wishes they were still partiers; they probably wouldn’t even dislike the frat if the frat boys weren’t rude to everyone around them. There’s a sense of balance to it’s approach.
But while having a good framing device helped my enjoyment a lot, the real reason why the movie did so well at the box office is that it’s also funny. Seth Rogen is his usual dependable self as the male half of the couple, whether that involves him doing riffs about Batman or being a good straight man in the scenes where the frat guys have the upper hand. Rose Byrne is also quite good as his wife in a role that treats her as an equal and not just as a buzzkill. Comedian Hannibal Burress has a few great scenes as a cop who gets called into mediate the arguments between the two warring camps, and Lisa Kudrow kills it in her few scenes as the dean of the college.
I want to take this opportunity to tell all of the people I went to college with: I don’t hate fun! Look at how much I enjoyed this comedy about people who want to shut down all of the parties so they can eat pizza in bed in peace.