For a movie so conventional in its generational humor, The Meddler has some first-rate incidental jokes—throwaways that make its huggy conclusions much easier to tolerate. For instance, why does a psychologist have a rabbit hutch next to her office chair? It is never explained, nor even mentioned. It is just there, as it somehow must be. And in the opening montage that introduces us to the title character, we listen to sexagenarian buttinsky Marnie (Susan Sarandon) describe her new life as a widow in L.A. At some point we realize she’s leaving a typically verbose message for adult daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), which includes the news that she’s unpacking “all my artwork” (we see a painting of Kermit the Frog) and “that doll that I had made of you” (we see—wow, that looks like a humanoid toy resembling a mummified child). We never hear about that creepy doll again, but the tossed-off gag lets us understand that Marnie has a somewhat overenthusiastic concept of parental commitment.
What happens when a relationship comedy meets Animal House? Not as much as you’d think, although Neighbors is frantic enough to leave the impression a lot is happening.
The movie begins with new parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne, from Bridesmaids) pondering how their lives have changed since having a baby. Before they can really explore the issue, a fraternity house moves in next door. This glitch in the zoning laws ushers in a nightmarish phase. The boys next door are up all night with loud music and partying. This is doubly annoying because it reminds Mac and Kelly of their lost youth.
First the parents try to make nice with their neighbors, which leads to the movie’s funniest sustained sequence, a night of blowing off steam. But a nasty rivalry sets in shortly thereafter.