The best thing about the new comedy Neighbors (as opposed to the old comedies with the same name) is that it’s two movies in one. You’ve got your movie about adults dealing with growing older and having a baby and how the new frat house next door is challenging both their maturity and their patience, and then you’ve got your basic college comedy in which a hotshot frat boy is dealing with his brothers, particularly his best friend, maturing and moving on near the end of their senior year. The latter might seem more derivative, but as one part of the Neighbors whole it works really well.
Of course, I still can’t help but focus on those predecessors. Fortunately most frat comedies are terrible and I won’t recommend them. But the obvious best has to be recognized, just in case there are youngsters going to see Seth Rogen and Zac Efron battle it out without having seen the necessary classics. As for the other storyline, it mostly just reminded me of the canceled NBC sitcom Up All Night. The following is a list of strictly movies that I thought of during Neighbors, some because of similar plot tropes and others because of talent involved. I think all of them are worth being familiar with if you’re going to now be familiar with this new movie.
As usual, this week’s Movies to Watch list could involve spoilers for the new release, here Neighbors, so only venture forth if you’ve seen it or don’t care.
National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
The frat house comedy, Animal House a classic and hopefully something that all kids are seeing on their way to college and/or on their way to proper cinematic authority. Efron’s character in Neighbors is equal parts Otter and Bluto, while Dave Franco‘s character is like the more straight-laced Boon. In this movie, they’re much more the heroes, though, and their probation is seen as something that they’re victims of — actually I guess their probation in Neighbors is even more something they’re victims of, as its a movie with grey lines of who’s good and bad. However, while not as much the villain as Dean Wormer is in Animal House, the character played by Lisa Kudrow in Neighbors isn’t exactly ever a positive one in that movie’s POV.
Old School (2003)
25 years after Animal House came the release of its most excellent descendent — and in my opinion, more hilarious. Like Neighbors it has a mixing of college students and adults who can’t stand the idea of being old. When Rogen and Rose Byrne‘s characters first go over to the frat house to party all night, it’s just like the first major house party in Old School, complete with jokes regarding how their adult responsibilities are clashing with their raging. Nothing in Neighbors is as spot-on as Will Ferrell‘s line about needing to go to Home Depot and maybe Bed, Bath and Beyond in the morning. What happens to Ferrell’s character at the end, where he just never moves on, is what I expected to happen to Efron’s.
Frat House (1998)
Before Old School, director Todd Phillips gained notoriety with this controversial Sundance winner about real fraternity life, which he made with Andrew Gurland. Because of claims that outrageous scenes of hazing were staged, the documentary was heavily criticized and lost its broadcast deal with HBO, but Phillips has apparently maintained its authenticity. Because of the fuss, it’s not officially available in any form, but you can watch it in full via YouTube below.
There have been quite a few other movies titled Neighbors through the years, including one from 1980 co-starring Bluto from Animal House. That’s supposed to be really terrible (I would concur that it is, but I’ve only seen parts), so let’s go back to this dependable short starring my favorite, Buster Keaton. It’s kind of an update on “Pyramus and Thisbe” with Keaton’s character in love with a girl who lives next door, their families enemies. Admittedly it’s a bit racist with Keaton doing a blackface gag, twice, where he’s hauled off by cops just because of the color of his skin. It’s almost worth the antiquated shtick for a Babe Ruth home run gag that helps him get away, though. And as should be expected, the stunt work, some of it employing dummies, makes the two reeler worth seeing regardless of the offensively dated elements. Especially everything with the three-man shoulder stand bit is outstanding.
Shut Up, Little Man! An Audio Misadventure (2011)
I’m always thinking of doc options, and this one came to mind when I was wondering about nonfiction alternatives about neighbors. Directed by Matthew Bate, it looks at the story and subsequent phenomenon of tape recordings made by a couple of guys of two belligerently alcoholic men living together in their building. There’s never any conflict among the neighbors, and rather this is an instance of people making the best of an annoying situation, even if it is through exploitation. Mostly the doc is interesting for the way it shows how something went viral in the days before the Internet.
Edward Scissorhands (1991) or Batman (1989)
I’m giving Tim Burton a two-for-one entry and you can make up your mind which you think is the more fitting inclusion. For Batman the reference comes in Rogen and Efron’s characters disputing, with impersonations, which Batman portrayal is better, Michael Keaton‘s or Christian Bale‘s — I prefer the former. And for Edward Scissorhands, there’s an allusion in the form of a shrub sculpture. I’m leaning in favor of Scissorhands as the movie that’s more necessary here, in part because it too deals with relationships among neighbors, including some that start off great and then go sour.
The City of Lost Children (1995)
There is a moment in Neighbors where Efron’s character puts on a pair of glasses featuring a hidden camera being used to spy on him. When he looks into the mirror to address his enemies and then kill the cam, I flashed back to the scene in Jean Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro‘s fantasy film where the one cult member connects and feeds his own vision to the prosthetic eye of another cult member as he kills him.
Scent of a Woman (1992) or Heat (1995)
Because nobody should be confusing Al Pacino and Robert De Niro and Scent of a Woman is the actual movie involved in the frat boys’ offense (Whoo-ah!). I guess to actually better see the distinction between the two actors you can go with Heat, the first movie they appeared side by side in (as opposed to The Godfather Part II, in which they share no scenes), but don’t bother with Righteous Kill.
The Trip (2010)
There is quite a bit of impersonation going on in Neighbors, including all the De Niro party stuff and the dueling Batmans and a scene in which Rogen and Ike Barinholtz‘s characters are doing celebrity voices while leaving voicemail invites for people. If you’re surprised at how great Barinholtz is, by the way, you can go back and watch him on Mad TV (but maybe not the Seltzer and Friedberg movies he’s appeared in). Particularly the Batman bit seems reminiscent of what Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon do in The Trip with their Michael Caine impressions (fittingly, Caine is in the Dark Knight movies). I’m not the only person to take notice of this one, as it’s mentioned in Ann Hornaday’s Washington Post review, too. Also look out for the sequel, The Trip to Italy, out later this summer.
Spanking the Monkey (1994)
If you recognize Carla Gallo, who plays Barinholtz’s character’s wild ex-wife, it might be from some other things also featuring Rogen, including Funny People, Superbad, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and the TV series Undeclared. But her debut was in this early David O. Russell drama that doesn’t get enough love after 20 years. For those who’ve seen it and never made the connection, she’s the young neighbor with whom Jeremy Davies‘s character becomes slightly involved, to disastrous effect.
Fright Night (2011) or Charlie St. Cloud (2010)
I like the Fright Night remake, and I might be the only one. It makes great use of the housing market collapse as a backdrop for the recycled idea of a vampire living in suburbia. And, hey, that means it involves the idea of bad neighbors, too. It’s mainly on the list because both Franco and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are in it. If you refuse it, you have the option of going with Charlie St. Cloud, which I haven’t seen but which features both Franco and Efron. Okay, here’s another option that you’ve likely already seen anyway: Superbad features Franco, Mintz-Plasse, Rogen and Gallo.
The Double (2013)
Also opening this weekend, but in limited release, is Richard Ayoade‘s delightfully weird adaptation of Dostoevsky’s “The Double.” Jesse Eisenberg plays a guy who meets his doppelganger, who also logically becomes his nemesis, particularly at work and in romance. Also, they’re neighbors, living across from each other in an apartment complex that is strangely integral to their employment and becomes integral to the plot. Normally recommending a new indie alongside a new Hollywood movie is only good for the city folk who have the option of seeing both. But in the case of The Double, it’s available now, day-and-date, on iTunes and VOD.
Bonus: American Storage (2006)
This is a short film made by Neighbors screenwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien. I haven’t actually seen it, which is why it’s a bonus mention. Steve Carell appears and Martin Starr stars as an employee at a self-storage facility. He finds a guy living in one of the units and at first befriends him and later regrets the decision. That sounds kinda like Rogen’s character first befriending Efron’s. As far as I know, you can only find it on the compilation with the second volume of McSweeney’s “Wholphin” DVD magazine. Another good reason to check it out: they’re turning it into a TV series.