2021 Movie Draft- Round 3 Pick 1- Music City Mike selects- Comedy- Neighbors.
February 1, 2021
FAVE COMEDY – Neighbors (1981)
I can deal with the fact that we all won’t like the same movies. But it’s a bit more difficult when you pay good money and go to the movie theater with your wife and another couple, and they all totally hate a movie that you absolutely love.
Such was the case in 1981 when I first saw the black comedy, Neighbors, starring John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd. This Larry Gelbart (of M*A*S*H television fame) screenplay was derived from a novel by Thomas Berger and sadly was the last time these two pals would be together on screen since it was also Belushi’s last film before his tragic untimely death. At the time it was filmed, John apparently wasn’t in a good place and it’s remarkable that it even got completed, let along deserve a mention as my all-time favorite comedy.
As far as my wife and friends’ reaction, it’s obvious that black comedy, in which humor is derived from things not normally expected to induce laughter, does not appeal to everyone. In Neighbors, most of the chuckles come from the frustrations of Belushi’s Earl Keese character’s inability to understand what in the world is going on and dealing with why everyone seems working against him.
Neighbors is not terribly dark, although there is some grief, pain, and damage. But to me, watching Keese suffer the consequences of the bizarre and mysterious behavior of his new neighbors, Vic and Ramona, played by Ackroyd and a very sexy Cathy Moriarty, was at times hysterical. And on top of that, the casual acceptance of all this oddness by his wife and daughter is anything but normal.
It’s of course unusual to see Belushi play the straight man to Ackroyd’s weirdo character, but both are just great in their parts. John looks perfectly dull and boring in his glasses and cheap three-piece suit while Dan looks quite freaky with bleach-blond hair, contacts-induced bright blue eyes and a “Born to Party” tattoo on his forearm.
What drives Neighbors is the unexplained nature of Vic and Ramona’s strange doings, how they fail to trigger his wife (played by an overly unemotional Kathryn Walker) and comically, how Earl’s reactions get him in trouble making him look like the bad guy. And of course, there is the continual sexual frustration he faces in dealing with Ramona’s surprising innuendos and advances towards him.
Most of Vic’s actions over the span of one long evening and the following day are suspect and devious. But despite destroying Earl’s safe but dull world, we find Earl on an emotional roller coaster of contempt and kinship with his new neighbor. It’s this aspect of Earls’ character that can make the viewer question whether Earl’s experience is in fact meant to be reality.
After almost 40 years, I was encouraged to finally read Berger’s novel upon which the screenplay was based. It’s a fine read and made me want to watch the film again. Gelbart remarkably stayed quite close to the original storyline although his ending is completely different. To me, the book’s ending makes a stronger case as to whether this was reality as opposed to the whole strange trip being a dream or fantasy existing only in Keese’s mind. Thankfully, both the film and book leave that for us to decide.
Watch Neighbors if you dare! Like I said, it’s not for everyone.