Early in Neighbors, a new comedy by Nicholas Stoller, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), stuck in their carefully planned adult home with their new baby, Facetime with their single party-girl friend (Carla Gallo) while she prepares to attend, attends, and comes down from the “craziest rave she’s ever been to.” Throughout the scene, when they receive the calls we see the familiar shape of the iPhone appear in a corner of the screen and Gallo’s face smushed into the rectangular frame, giving the viewer the sensation of actually Facetimeing with the character. The structure and style of this interaction seems to encompass all of the visual and dramatic themes that interest Stoller as a comedy director. Specifically, Stoller’s directorial body of work explores the dynamic between those who have embraced traditionally encouraged societal, romantic, or professional values — Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Jonah Hill in Get Him to the Greek, Rogen and Byrne in Neighbors — and those who live more freely, albeit due to some sort of core personal issue sorted out over the course of the film — Russell Brand in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek, Zac Efron in Neighbors. And in exploring this, Stoller tweaks the established studio comedy look to adapt and serve the story he is telling, whether that be the use of modern technology embedded in the style of the film, or using diegetic performed music within the narrative.
The central conceit of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Stoller’s first feature, lies in the conflict that arises when Peter Bretter, played by Jason Segel heads to Hawaii to get away from his breakup with ubiquitous actress Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) only to find that she is staying at the same resort with her new fling, hyper-sexualized shock-rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). It is not as though Aldous and Sarah are actively torturing or villainizing Peter, they are just existing in the same space despite Peter’s most basic desire to avoid her. Both his traditional protagonists and antagonists have similar flaws which are exasperated under the pressure cooker of sharing a space with someone who makes said space uncomfortable for the other person.
The simple set up of the conflict of proximity permeates throughout Stoller’s comedy. From the thin-walled sex scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, to the volatile combination of buttoned up Jonah Hill and out of control Russell Brand in Get Him to the Greek, to the set up of family vs. fraternity in Neighbors, Stoller manages to mine the most out creating comedic conflict from basic behaviors. In an interview at Fast Company, Stoller says, “I think movies get funnier and funnier the more relatable they are. There are no real villains in real life, and the more your main character is a good person making mistakes, the funnier the movie is… In every movie, you want to see someone who has a problem figure it out. There’s something satisfying about that.” He sets up scenarios where every characters’ motivations feel relatable or at least earned based on the truths of their age, occupation, relationship status, etc. READ MORE