Once you step outside of North America, the movie Neighbors barely exists. Instead, you’ll find a very similar-looking movie called Bad Neighbours. Initially, I thought that this was an early draft, with a working title but IMDb tells us that the working title was actually Townies and that Bad Neighbours is the actual release title in Australia, Germany, the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Singapore, and pretty much everywhere else except North America. I don’t really care too much about the title, except for the fact that spelling words with an extra “u” is classy as shit. What’s really noticeable is the other difference between the international and North American posters. Look closely, squint, and you might catch it.
Putting aside my bad crop, it’s pretty tough to hash out the differences here. Okay, so the frame is shorter, leaving less room for the sky… The lighting looks a bit darker, implying a more sinister, hands-dirty kind of tone… The title is now stenciled onto the fence itself… The tagline is different, now it’s just “Family vs. Frat,” simplifying the message… I like it, I like it. Except, oh wait (he said sarcastically). They took out Rose Effing Byrne. Don’t worry, this whole article isn’t going to be a feminist rant – only about half of it. Seriously, though, why no Rose Byrne on this poster? I understand that marketing is important when it comes to selling a movie. You need to make sure that the people who see your advertising materials have every reason possible to go see your movie. Seth Rogen is there for the Seth Rogen crowd, Zac Efron is there for the High School Musical and I’m-pretending-to-like-High School Musical– ironically-but-am-just-really-into-Zac-Efron crowd. So who cares about Rose Byrne?
Fair question, I suppose, considering it’s not like I had been lining up to see the next Rose Byrne movie. In my mind, she’s always just been in movies, rather than starring in them, if you catch the distinction. Scrolling through her IMDb is an exercise in going “she was in that? Oh yeah, I guess she was,” at least until you get to Insidious. Bridesmaids was my first experience recognizing that there is a distinct person known as Rose Byrne who makes movies but none of this matters. It’s not as though there is only one version of this poster and someone accidentally left off one of the primary characters. The version of the poster that should exist does exist. There is just an assumption that “American” audiences care more about the cult of personality than about providing a genuine look at what the movie represents or who does what within it. On its own, with no supporting trailer, the American poster seems to suggest that Rogen is a single father, or at best, a suffering househusband, whereas the international one provides a much more realistic preview of what’s to come. AND it has the nerve to acknowledge Byrne. My biggest concern is that the expectation is that “American” would be less likely to see the movie because it has a woman on the poster.
In terms of screen time, Byrne deserves identical billing to Rogen and Efron. In terms of performances, the same is true. Many of the best scenes of the movie not only hinge on Byrne’s performance as a comedic actor but also in her portrayal of a uniquely female experience. Whether it’s an uncomfortable scene involving breast engorgement or a fantastic display of the power of female sexuality, there are scenes that could not succeed or, as is the case in many here, steal the show, without a solid, explicitly female performance. No one is trying to suggest that Rogen or Efron don’t have a similar comedic value or that they don’t belong on the poster; it’s simply a question of giving credit where it’s due.
Now, I did promise to not spend the whole time talking about the poster. So, I’ll also spend a bit of time talking about how uncomfortable Neighbors is with homosexuality. “Boooooooo,” cried the reader, already sick of my self-righteous attitude. “Psssh,” said the critic, continuing a dialogue that happened entirely in my imagination. So let’s talk about how scared Neighbors is of two guys boning.
An uncomfortable amount of jokes depend on the idea that two men having sex is something that should be avoided at all costs. The following list contains spoilers, and will therefore ruin jokes as well as being a buzzkill.
1) Two men engage in a dildo fight, which concludes when one man puts a rubber penis into another man’s mouth. The recipient of the dildo (which is freshly unpackaged, and therefore unused) responds with fury, yelling about how disgusting it is. Again, it’s unused, so it’s the idea of a penis in his mouth that is the real crime.
2) Another fight between two men ends when one man intentionally gives himself an erection against the other’s hand in order to incite a response of, again, disgust.
3) Two platonic friends yell “I love you!” at each other until it starts to feel uncomfortable. The lingering joke is that one of them may express romantic love at any moment but neither one wants to be the one to cross that line.
4) In a gay variation of a classic movie trope, one man kisses another in order to avoid detection. The result: disgust and confusion. Wah wah.
5) The only experience we have of actual, non-comedic same-sex interaction is when two women kiss at a party. It’s not funny because it’s too busy being hot – so hot that Seth Rogen’s character literally forgets what he’s doing. So it’s not as though homosexual relationships are always the butt (pun unintended but also not redacted) of the joke, it’s just that dudes hooking up with dudes is gross and should be avoided at all costs. When hot chicks make out with each other, that’s totally cool, bruh.
What makes this all so frustrating is that, otherwise, Neighbors is one of the funnier movies in recent memory. Like Bridesmaids and The 40-Year-Old Virgin before that, Neighbors is likely to be the standard-bearer for comedy for the next while to come. It’s just disappointing that once we scrape the surface, old biases and prejudices are still very much part of the way we make and sell movies.
Dylan Clark-Moore is a podcast creator and blogger at NetFlakes. You can find him on Letterboxd and Twitter.
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Neighbors is also available from Amazon.