There’s a prevailing spool of thought in recent movie comedies that improvisation results in a less inhibited, ultimately funnier film than can be created by merely regurgitating lines from a screenplay. It’s an idea perpetuated by the likes of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, and when it works it produces raucously funny comedies such as Anchorman and Knocked Up.
However, when it doesn’t work, the outcome is a hodgepodge of unconnected scenes that descend into repetitious gags and offer no character development. It’s a technique that worked against Anchorman 2 and it wreaks similar havoc on Nicholas Stoller’s otherwise hilarious and strongly performed Bad Neighbours.
Bringing to minds 80s comedies of the Neighbours (1981) type (or, for those not so old, like the All American Rejects video ‘Gives You Hell’ but without the insufferably sugary pop melodies), the Bad Neighbours finds Rogen as Mac Radner, an unfulfilled husband to Rose Byrne’s bored housewife Kelly, and follows the youngish couple as they adjust to suburban life and take their first tentative steps into parenthood. That is, until Zac Efron’s college fraternity moves in next door with designs on earning a place on the wall of fame by throwing the greatest ‘rager’ in history. And thus the prank-for-prank turf war begins.
This film is an excellent vehicle for Rogen: choc full of the kind of gross, frat-boy humour the loveable man-child does so well. Barely a scene goes by without a dick-joke or someone lighting up a joint and many of the best gags feel original because they have not been used in the trailers. One great scene erupts into an outrageously inventive fight scene between Rogen and Efron and escalates to the point where they are slapping each other in the face with homemade dildos.
Bad Neighbours is also stuffed with strong comedic performances. Byrne in particular elevates herself above the nagging housewife trope to be an active participant in the carnage, dreaming up wild comebacks as a way to escape the boredom of being a stay at home mom. Dave Franco, too, gives a surprising turn. Not just a pot-head sidekick to Efron’s lead, Franco’s Pete is actually an ambitious student, even when he’s stealing the campus’s 3D printer to make a replica of his penis.
What it lacks, though, is a recognizable structure to make the most of its acting talent. The heavy use of improvisation results in a sketch-like structure where the plot feels stuck on a loop, firing-off joke after joke without ever building enough momentum to move the characters forward. As a consequence a theme of growing up and accepting the party is over never fully resonates, especially when (spoiler alert) Mac and Kelly claim they’re happy being older despite lying in bed stoned and eating a pizza after attending an all night rave.
Bad Neighbours has a great cast and plenty of original, raucous humour to entertain, but its lack of a coherent structure, born out of an over reliance on improvisation, meaning it amounts to nothing more than an enjoyable film that is quickly forgotten.
Runtime: 91 Minutes Genre: Comedy Released: 3 May 2014
Director: Nicholas Stoller Writer: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien
Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco