Zac Efron in Neighbors

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The reviews intrigued me. Zac Efron was called out repeatedly, and reviewers were using surprising words like “melancholy,” to describe what he was doing, which made me totally curious. Not that it surprised me that Efron was good (I have always liked him), but the language of the reviews definitely caught my interest, and made me think I needed to go check out the performance for myself.

So thank you, critics. Because yeah, his performance really is that good.

I was completely riveted by what he was doing with the role. It could have been so stock. It is not stock at all. He turns in a layered, complex, and … rather STRANGE … performance … as the cocky – yet also kind and sweet – yet also manipulative – yet also deeply troubled – President of Delta Psi. Every moment has more than one thing roiling on in it, every moment has multiple layers. Sometimes it’s just an uneasy flicker in his eyes, subtle, barely there, other times his subtext is more obvious to the naked eye. He’s crazy pleasing to look at, and he knows it, and uses it in a way that is aware and interesting. But also a tiny bit sad. Efron is aware of all of that. He is completely in charge of his affect. This is mega-watt superstar-type acting, the kind of stuff I’ve been talking about so much in my Supernatural re-caps. How beautiful men use their beauty (the talented ones, I mean). You know it when you see it. What he brings to his character in Neighbors is a slight strain of unpredictability, so that you are not sure what you are seeing at certain times, you are not sure how to evaluate him. But you can’t look away. Every time he was onscreen, he dominated.

Also: you LOVE this character. You think you will hate him. You do not. You fall in LOVE with him. Not every actor could pull this off. It is all Efron.

My brilliant friend Mitchell said in re: Efron:

Natural old-school movie star charisma. Can’t teach it or learn it. Just gotta have it.

The movie is quite funny and I enjoyed it a lot. I love the marriage created by Rogen and Byrne, I love how in sync they are, how supportive they are of one another, even as their schemes get crazier and crazier. If Apatow had directed, Rogen would have befriended the frat-bros and boring nag wife would have tried to shut the whole thing down – but here: the young couple are totally in sync, pumping each other up into a shared state of outrage. (Also, to those who say rape jokes can NEVER be funny … there’s a hilarious one in Neighbors. Well, all I can say is, I laughed out loud. But then again, I’m a terrible person.) The war between the frat house and the next-door neighbors escalates, horribly. All of the ancillary characters are well-drawn, performed well.

But the strange and compelling anchor of the entire film is Efron.

It’s those uneasy flickers in his eyes, gone before you know it, or the sudden weird openness, the unexpected softness that arises, and then, too, the hardened armor clapping back up, his self-awareness, the conflicting feelings, the sadness going on way way deep …. It’s a totally complex performance.

Hats off.

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4 Responses to Zac Efron in Neighbors

  1. May says:

    I just saw Neigbors this past weekend. (This post caught my eye as I was scrolling down to comment on the SPN post).

    Efron certainly stood out! I was reminded of your SPN posts when watching him.

  2. sheila says:

    May- sorry – I somehow missed your comment!

    Yes, Efron is definitely using himself in a similar way – self-aware, almost bodaciously sexual – but then also, damaged and insecure – all these weird shadings. It’s such an intricate deep performance for a slight little comedy and I love him for it!

  3. May says:

    That’s OK. I really didn’t have much to say! Basically, just that I agree with you. Frat-bro, stoner movies aren’t something I usually seek out (which I figured this largely was) so I had quite low expectations going in. But I found Efron interesting.

  4. Andrew Wright says:

    Interesting that you write about Zac Efron. He is a local boy from here in San Luis Obispo, CA. Since Jack LaLanne died, he’s probably our most famous resident – along with Lou Ferrigno (the Incredible Hulk).

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