Film: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron
Do sequels really need to exist? This thought kept bouncing around in my head before seeing Neighbors 2, a movie that more or less finds a legitimate reason to exist. As is with almost every second entry, the audience is promised more of the same with some new stuff thrown in to appease the grumps. Most sequels really just deliver more of the same amidst months upon months of hype behind it. How many times does an audience need to be subjected to the same contrived, dramatic and action beats before enough is enough? Luckily for you (and everyone else), Neighbors 2 understands this sort of criticism and strives to be much more than its predecessor. It’s progressive feminist politics are blown through a megaphone, the style is increasingly unreliable to stay consistent, and the actors are stuck in the same situation again. But hey, it still manages to be pretty funny.
Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are finally selling their house now that the fraternity is gone. Well, that is until their house is put into escrow for 30 days and a new sorority moves in. Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), the idealistic president of the newly formed Kappa Nu, doesn’t take kindly to the “no partying” rule that the other sorority implemented, so she forms her own group to cut themselves from the lame misogyny-inducing culture of Phi Landa. Mac and Kelly freak out, as they’re wont to do, and bring Teddy (Zac Efron) back into the fold to shut this new sorority down.
What’s really “nice” and “refreshing” about Neighbors 2 is its insistence that this is less Mac and Kelly’s story as it is Shelby and her sisters’ story. These young girls are freshmen in college, being thrusted into a new world filled with so many great things and so many bad things (looking at you, boorish frats that propagate rape culture). While their fight against the kind of frat culture that holds them down is yelled like a piece at a slam poetry session, the story only benefits from taking such a political stance in a big-budget studio comedy. This comes with a caveat though: this movie isn’t going to change politics in studio films nor is it a perfect representation of the dark side of college, so stop treating this film’s politics like the second coming of Christ. It’s very much a movie that’ll yell progressive things as jokes and then recede back to the story, not really changing anything but small moments.
The shining moment in Neighbors 2 comes from a career topping performance from Zac Efron. That’s right, I said it. Efron’s Teddy hasn’t had a good lease on life ever since graduation. The retail life has been killing him, especially since his shirtless model gig has ended in favor of having clothed models help customers. His loneliness and struggle to find a place in the world becomes the butt of so many jokes that you’ll be unable to count after a while, but Efron plays it off with such a palpable existential sadness. Like his original Neighbors performance, Efron seems born to play characters that directly criticize the alpha-male characters he usually has to play.
Nicholas Stoller’s direction seems to be one of the few things I took umbrage with. There are a few scenes with such disgusting visual effects—some for laughs and some not—that being visually consistent seems to be the last thing on the sequel rap sheet. The first Neighbors had propulsive party sequences all filmed with tact, and this one seems to suffer from being unsure of what movie it wants to be. The partying is back, but is it okay this time? More of an afterthought here.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising may be jettisoned and cut down for the most laughs per minute, but it’ll make you realize there’s a universe out there where the ringleaders of franchises understand their audience and at least try to make reasons to have them come back for more.
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