After Neighbors became a huge hit in 2014, the pitch for a sequel was probably an easy one.
“Let’s do the same thing, except instead of a fraternity next door, the young family does battle with…wait for it…a sorority next door.”
Thankfully, while Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising adheres to an established formula, it’s progressive with its girls behaving badly premise. Sure, the sorority sisters prove they can be rude and crude like the frat bros – and even as unlikable on occasion, but their angst is rooted in a desire to express their individuality and attain equality, rather than proving they’re the alpha females. The prescribed comedic moments are also quite funny until the slightly problematic final third of the movie.
We pick up with married couple Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) as they prep for a move the ‘burbs and the arrival of a second child. Their house is sold and in escrow, so the nosy buyers have 30 days to back out of the deal should any problems arise. Enter college fresh(wo)men Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein). During rush week they learn of a rule barring sororities from throwing parties and astutely observe the frat scene as “rapey.” Forming a quick bond over their shared oppression (and a joint), the girls decide to create their own sorority outside of the established Greek System. The house next to the Radners, vacated by the frat from the first film, is for rent. The girls move in and the butting of heads begins.
The nice twist is that Shelby and crew are standing up for ideals. Fighting for your right to party takes on a bit of a different meaning when your ragers involve dressing up as your favorite feminist icon. They do, however, rely on the help of a man for a time. Teddy (Zac Efron), the Radners’ agitator from Neighbors, agrees to assist in getting the sorority off the ground in exchange for room and board.
Stuck in post-college limbo and surrounded by more successful friends, Teddy’s been displaced from the apartment of his old bro Pete (Dave Franco), who’s moving in with his fiancée, who happens to be another dude. Refreshingly, gay jokes are of the non-wincing variety. Efron’s role is an important one and his charming aloofness captures the space between clueless college bro and out of touch near-adult. These girls sure think he’s hot, but his casual, if unintentional, sexism and mansplaining are just too much. The scene where the girls have a text conversation about Teddy while he’s in the room slyly illustrates their take-charge mantra.
On the other side, Mac and Kelly are stunted in their development as parents, sometimes a little too extremely so for the sake of comedy, though Rogen and Byrne charm their way through. Rogen successfully transitions from lovable stoner to slightly older lovable stoner with familial responsibilities, while Byrne’s comedic timing remains impeccable. Her vacant reaction to the couple’s real estate agent explaining escrow and her trouble with spelling the world “sorority” are highlights.
Of course, not all the comedy is so subtle. There are gags involving vomit, dildos, and tampons – some funnier than others, but they aren’t portrayed as simply a ramping up of raunch or grossness for grossnesses sake. Where director Nicholas Stoller loses his way a bit is in the centerpiece conflicts between the sisters and the Radners. Acts of sabotage involving a tailgate party and stolen cell phones take way too long to set up and even longer to play out, draining the situations of their humor. Perhaps the overwritten feel of these sections is due to having five writers – Stoller and Rogen among them. And why exactly did Rogen have to don short shorts and draw muscle definition lines all over his body?
No bother. The several genuine laughs are enough to make up for any lulls and non sequiturs. Even better, Neighbors 2 balances the clowning with a somewhat sophisticated message that feels very much relevant in its time.