By Karen Brooks
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - It's OK to grow up. Even Seth Rogen says so.
As a married former party guy transitioning into suburban parenthood, Rogen wages war with the frat house next door in the raucous new Nicholas Stoller movie, "Neighbors," that screened this weekend as a work in progress at the SXSW Film Festival.
Packed with crowd-pleasing Rogen-style jokes - including a cringe-worthy bumble with a breast pump - the war spirals into depravity between new parents Mac and Kelly Radner and the Delta Psi Beta frat next door, led by its slightly damaged president, Teddy, portrayed by Zac Efron.
But as Mac and Kelly, played by Rogen and Rose Byrne, find themselves trying to shut down raging parties they would have loved to attend when they were 10 years younger, the film's biggest battle turns out to be internal.
It is the one fought by anyone afraid to grow up, or who cannot figure out how to make a comfortable transition to "get-off-my-lawn" adulthood out of an irresponsible youth they are sorry to see disappear.
"When you have a kid, that's great, and obviously amazing, but as special as it is, it does destroy a part of your previous life," Rogen, 31, a co-producer of the movie, told Reuters on Sunday in an interview after the movie's first public screening. "That's probably good in some ways, but it's also a bummer in some ways."
Early reviews have been largely positive, with critics appreciating the movie's nonstop jokes in a film Variety senior features writer Andrew Barker describes as "lewder, weirder, louder, leaner, meaner and more winningly stupid" than previous Stoller or Rogen efforts. The film opens in North American theaters on May 9.
The audience in Austin laughed and cheered through most of the antics, including the moment the baby sticks the used condom into her mouth after the frat boys fling it onto the lawn.
Mac and Kelly's frantic debate over how to say "keep it down" in a cool way was a crowd favorite, highlighting a question asked by many in the fight against growing older: when did we stop being cool?
'I KNOW THESE GUYS'
The inspiration for the focus on growing pains was largely autobiographical, Rogen said. He and writers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien are of similar age and going through the same life changes as Mac and Kelly are - not to mention their own fans.
"All of a sudden it just started to seem like we were more likely to be the ones calling the cops on the kids partying than to be the kids partying," Rogen said with a laugh. "That to us was really fertile and original and something we all really related to, and once we started having those conversations, that's when the movie, I think, took a great shape."
Byrne's likable portrayal of Kelly as an enthusiastic partner in revenge earned critical accolades for the "Bridesmaids" actress.
Kelly Radner is not your typical stick-in-the-mud movie wife trying to get her immature husband to quit messing with the frat boys. She helps defeat them, even calling on her old hot-girl skills to get Teddy's girlfriend to betray him.
Efron, characterized by Variety's Barker as giving "one of his most credible and intriguing performances" as the charismatic Teddy, said he found him to be a surprisingly complex character.
Where Mac the new dad may find the prospect of adulthood to be gratifying if confusing, for Teddy, president of the frat that claims to have invented beer pong, the thought of growing up is flat-out terrifying - and that gives him depth, Efron said.
He credited collaboration with Rogen and others in helping him adequately deliver Teddy's multi-faceted character.
"We were able to kind of find the heart in it," Efron, 26, said. "I have a couple of friends like this, and Teddy is sort of a mixture of their best and worst qualities. I know these guys. I've felt those feelings."
It is OK, and it can even be cool, to grow up.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and G Crosse)