"Who here is a little bit drunk?"
And to that question, damn near everyone in attendance at last night's Neighbors world premiere screening at the SXSW Film Festival broke out in thunderous applause. And we're talking upwards of 1,000 rowdy cinephiles, too, being that Neighbors was unveiled at Austin's Paramount Theatre, a 1,100-seat venue that resembles one of those old-school opera houses, complete with side balconies and an upper seating level.
The man asking the question: director Nicholas Stoller, getting the crowd hyped up for his new movie's first-ever screening. Stoller's back at SXSW after the successful 2008 premiere of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, his directorial debut prefacing Get Him to the Greek. Where Sarah Marshall was a raucous but often tender look at failed love and loneliness, Neighbors is a totally different beast. Foul-mouthed, kinetic, and lean (clocking in at a just-right 95 minutes), it's consistently hilarious—come May 9, when Neighbors officially opens theatrically, it will be the funniest movie a major Hollywood studio (in this case, Universal Pictures) will have released since 2012's Jump Street.
There was hardly a quiet moment throughout the screening, due in large part to the film's loaded cast, all of whom are on the entire time. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play Mac and Kelly Rdner, a happily married couple trying to keep the flame going despite the fact that they're raising an infant girl, Stella (a natural born scene-stealer if there ever was one). To complicate their domestic life, Delta Psi Beta, a fraternity made up of mostly dim-witted meatheads, moves into the house next door, turning Teddy and Kelly's neighborhood into a 24/7 reenactment of National Lampoon's Animal House. Led by president Teddy (Zac Efron) and his VP, Pete (Dave Franco), the frat dudes go to the extremes of partying—at one point, they turn their entire home into a "hotbox house," which, yes, is close what it sounds like, only much more set-design ambitious. It doesn't help Mac's situation that Teddy's beyond ripped, with arms that, as Mac puts it, look like "two big veiny dicks."
Neighbors is, for the most part, a tightly connected series of sight gags and profane one-liners, but unlike most Hollywood comedies, very few of the film's jokes miss. It'd be too obvious to single out Rogen's performance, even though he hasn't been this funny on-screen since Knocked Up. An ensemble piece, Neighbors features two unexpected MVP performances from Dave Franco and Rose Byrne. Franco, playing off of the similarly impressive against-type Efron, gets just as many strong punch-lines as Rogen, while Byrne never lets the dominant comedic force who's playing her fictional other-half overshadow her. In fact, she got the premiere's biggest round of applause, coming after a set-piece in which Mac and Kelly strategically turn Teddy and Pete against each other by challenging the old "bros before hoes" conceit.
Byrne's big moment happens in the midst of one of the film's many frat house raves, all of which radiate with flashing neon lights, energetic handheld camerawork, and unruly close-ups and camera angles. During the post-screening Q&A, for which the entire cast minus Rose Byrne participated, Stoller cited the 2009 French head-trip film Enter the Void as a "visual touchstone" used by he and director of photography Brandon Trost for the Neighbors party scenes, and it shows.
Not that Stoller or any of his cast were able to bring any personal experiences to those sequences, though. While introducing the film, Stoller dedicated it to producer James Weaver, the only person involved with Neighbors who was ever in a fraternity. "The rest of us," said Stoller, "were Jews and child stars. Thank you, James, for explaining to me what an elephant walk is."
Once the movie ended, Stoller hopped back on stage along with the entire cast. Unsurprisingly, that's when Seth Rogen took over the proceedings. The first question came from one rather enthusiastic audience member, a guy who stepped into one of the aisles to make sure Rogen and company could clearly see him. "That was one of the best movies I've ever seen," he said, spending a solid 60 seconds repeating that sentiment with different phrasings. At his final "best movie ever" exclamation, Rogen didn't waste a second. "I'm gonna fuck the shit out of that guy! The second this is over!"
The only time one of Rogen's responses earned a larger outburst of clapping than that? When another audience member cited a bit in Neighbors where Rogen and Efron's characters, both excessively drunk and high, discuss their personal favorite Batmans—the older Mac prefers Michael Keaton and the much younger Teddy likes Christian Bale. The question for Rogen was, simply, "Who's Batman to you?" Showing love to Keaton, he asked the crowd, "Who here like the George Clooney Batman? Absolutely no one."
The Q&A as a whole, not unlike Neighbors itself, maintained that kind of random humor. Barely any of the audience's questions pertained directly to the movie. One obnoxious guy, for shame, asked the cast and crew if they'd take an "epic selfie" like Ellen Degeneres' at the Academy Awards—fortunately, Rogen quickly shot that request down.
The last question of the night: "Will there be a sequel?"
"No," said Rogen. "First this one needs to make money, and none of you paid to be here, as far as I know."
"So, basically," continued Stoller, "it hasn't made any money yet."
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
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