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Is Rose Byrne of 'Neighbors' Comedy's New Secret Weapon?

Photo of Susan Wloszczyna By Susan Wloszczyna | Thompson on Hollywood May 12, 2014 at 1:52PM

Who says beautiful women can’t be funny? Just watch as porcelain-pretty Rose Byrne does the near-impossible by upstaging the bawdy boys in “Neighbors,” a raunchy R-rated suburban warfare comedy and now box-office hit that pits abdominally-endowed frat leader Zac Efron against pot-bellied cubicle drone Seth Rogen.
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Rose Byrne in 'Neighbors'
Rose Byrne in 'Neighbors'

Who says beautiful women can’t be funny? Just watch as porcelain-pretty Rose Byrne does the near-impossible by upstaging the bawdy boys in “Neighbors,” a raunchy R-rated  suburban warfare comedy and now box-office hit that pits abdominally endowed frat leader Zac Efron against pot-bellied cubicle drone Seth Rogen. As Rogen’s housebound wife and mother of an infant daughter, Byrne is the one who elicits audience applause by fiendishly using her powers of seduction to convince Efron’s best buddy to put  “a ho before a bro” and cause a rift between the pals. Amy Nicholson in her “L.A. Weekly” review goes so far as to declare the actress as the film’s MVP: “Tequilla shot for tequila shot, Byrne is at the center, driving the action.” 

Rose Byrne in Star Wars

Signature line: “Keep it DOWN!” -- Byrne as Kelly Radner, trying to be cool and failing miserably while warning the Delta Psi guys next door to go easy on the noise in “Neighbors.”

Career peaks: As Byrne, 34, herself once noted: “I often do very serious roles, but really I am a big clown.” It has taken a while for moviemakers to catch on to the humor potential of this Aussie native, who made her film debut at 13 in “Dallas Doll,” a Sydney-set curiosity starring Sandra Bernhard.

After doing TV, stage and movies in her homeland, she made her Hollywood debut as a handmaiden to Natalie Portman’s Sen. Padme Amidala in 2002’s “Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones.” (The Force is powerful even with small parts -- Byrne has revealed that 99% of her fan mail is “Star Wars”-related). By 2004, she was doing love scenes with Brad Pitt in the epic “Troy” and appearing with Josh Hartnett in the thriller “Wicker Park.” Top-line indie filmmakers such as Sofia Coppola (2006’s “Marie Antoinette”) and Danny Boyle (“Sunshine” and “28 Weeks Later,” both 2007) began to seek out her services.

Byrne found the perfect TV platform for her dramatic side for five seasons starting in 2007 as a novice attorney going head to head with Glenn Close at her most intimidating on the legal series “Damages”. She finally went over to the funny side big time as Jackie Q, a Christina Aguilera-esque provocative British pop diva who breaks rocker Russell Brand’s heart in 2010’s “Get Him to the Greek.” After taking a horror detour with 2011’s “Insidious,” she managed to take on Kristin Wiig’s hapless maid of honor as Helen, the surface-sweet wealthy friend of the bride who gives a master class in passive-aggressive girly one-upmanship (i.e. handing out puppies as bridal shower favors) in “Bridesmaids.”

Rose Byrne in 'Bridesmaids'

Biggest assets: Byrne has perfected the art of using her flawless appearance and poised persona to upend audience expectations, especially when she breaks out the bawdy and acts as irresponsibly as her male comedy co-stars. Many critics have proclaimed a moment in “Neighbors” as a giant leap for female funny kind:  When Rogen berates his spouse’s juvenile behavior when she gets jiggy with the frat crowd, stating,  “We both can’t be Kevin James.” But Byrne’s Kelly makes it clear she has no interest in being a boring voice-of-reason sitcom wife. She is free to misbehave with the best -- and worst -- of them.

This article is related to: Features, Rose Byrne, Career Watch, Neighbors


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.