Sunday, 11 May 2014

we can't both be kevin james: baby's first rave and growing up

Last night, I watched the movie The Neighbors. Overall, it was hit-or-miss; when it was funny, it was incredibly funny, but when it fell flat (which was often), it came closer to falling concave. I didn't go into this movie with very high expectations-- which felt justified even before the movie began as we were subjected to a preview of Seth McFarlane's latest 'creative' venture-- and at times The Neighbors failed to meet even those.* (This post will, obviously, contain spoilers for the movie.)

The premise of this movie is basic but fun-- a fraternity moves in next door to a young couple who are struggling with adjusting to their recent parenthood, and these two forces (of course) battle it out. The pranks and petty crimes they resort to in this fight are about as childish as you might expect from a modern comedy, especially a Seth Rogen vehicle, and the humor at times is 'fittingly' juvenile, inappropriate, and the wrong kind of offensive.**

But what is by far the most interesting part of this movie is its message about growing up. The age of Rogen and Byrne's characters is (as I recall) not directly established but at a guess I would place them in their late-twenties or early-thirties, born in the '80s nearer the very beginning of the Millenial Generation; while Efron and Franco's characters are college seniors, born in the early '90s. The age gap between them, less than 10 years, feels easily bridged-- on the one side, a youth reclaimed, on the other, a probable future. An intra-generational anxiety, more unavoidable as time goes on, and more impossible to resolve.
We are presented with people at two very important milestones toward Adulthood™ in many people's lives: starting a family and graduating college. And almost no one is dealing well with the recent or upcoming changes to their life. For instance, in an early scene, one of the couple's friends invites them out to a rave, and when confronted with the obstacle of obtaining a babysitter, plan instead to bring their very young child with them, saying that parenthood doesn't mean they have to "stop being who [they] are". Later on, when his very slightly more responsible friend (Franco) tells Efron that accomplishments within the fraternity don't matter beyond one's college years, he has an existential crisis, and vows to live on as a fraternity legend.*** Both have a goal of remaining forever the stereotype of a Millennial: self-centered, hedonistic, reckless, ambitionless. Even for a Manchild Protagonist™ movie, it's clear that this is impossible.
The line that most stood out to me, to the point that I feel it can summarize this entire train of thought quite neatly, is "We can't both be Kevin James." For context, at this point in the movie the war with the frat has gone dangerously far, and Byrne is angry at her husband for being incredibly irresponsible and letting this go on long enough that it is seriously endangering their daughter.**** Rogen counters by saying that he is "the dumb irresponsible guy" and she is "the smart woman who stops [him] from going too far", like in "any Kevin James movie". They can't both be Kevin James, they can't both be irresponsible, they can't continue on in the same way they were living before.
Efron grows up less noticeably which isn't unreasonable considering how much bigger a change having a baby is than leaving college. But he takes on all the responsibility for the damage and illegality of the year's final party, urging his friend (and less directly, all of the frat bros) to leave because some of them are actually going somewhere with their lives. This is, obviously, a large punishment to take on, and one which the Efron of an hour prior would not have taken, and more important, could not have.
At the end of the movie, we get two scenes demonstrating their relative growth. Rogen and Byrne lie in bed talking about how much they love "grown-up stuff"-- brunch, shell-shaped soaps, other small bourgeois pleasures. They take pictures of their daughter while their friends call them up from Burning Man, and feel no regret for not attending. Efron has gotten a job (not one that many would consider to be "grown-up", but a step forward for him nonetheless) and is working hard at night school to finish up his degree. He doesn't state his future plans, but it's clear that he does have them.

Ultimately the best I can really say of The Neighbors is that it was salvageable; hiding inside this movie, slightly obscured by dick jokes and cheap laughs, is a funny and quietly thoughtful movie about growing up and what it means to be an adult.*****

* Worst of these disappointments is that a movie presented to me as "Zac Efron's Shirtless Movie" had relatively little shirtlessness from him, but I digress.
**  Several jokes were homophobic, and a few were racist or misogynistic, including use of the n-word and the c-word.
*** There are too many early scenes filled with Efron and Franco's immaturity to choose just one for easy contrast.
**** Refreshingly, the movie does not treat Byrne's anger as that of a nagging buzzkill of a wife, doing all she can to get between her manchild husband and his fun. Rather, it acknowledges that (AS IS OBVIOUSLY TRUE) her concern for the safety of their child is entirely justified.
***** That is not to say, of course, that dick jokes et al. have no place in the second version of this movie. Dick jokes have for millennia had a place in quietly thoughtful creative works.

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