Somehow, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising manages to be both funnier and just as exhausting as its predecessor. I was not a fan of the first Neighbors, though I did find moments of it to be humorous. There are downright hysterical jokes in Neighbors 2, but all of them occur in the first 35 minutes. The problem with the first was that it seemed to exist in a world of pervasive bro-culture. As hard as I found it to watch a bunch of bro’s bro-ing down and having increasingly debauched parties, I found it even harder to then sympathize with these unlikable twits when the third act rolled around. I felt about 75 years old, sitting in a screening of the first Neighbors and thinking, “Why are these nasty kids bothering sweet married couple Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne?” The sequel does not go down the road of the first in terms of the high-velocity pranks pulled by the frat house on Rogen and Byrne, nor does it stage multiple interminable house parties. (There is only one, and it fits nicely into the plot.) In fact, the movie concerns itself far more with gender politics than it does with trying to out-extreme the first movie.
Chloe Grace Moretz, who now may or may not be too old to play a teenager, is a freshman who just wants to party. She starts her college life by sparking a joint in the middle of a sorority initiation, led by an unamusingly stiff Selena Gomez. Turns out, this sorority isn’t about that. And it turns out sororities are legally banned from throwing parties, though clearly no such rule protects fraternities (a point the movie hits over and over again), so Moretz and her band of new found friends decide to start their own sorority that can throw parties. Now, I might have missed the part where they explain how these girls are able to start a partying sorority, without any discerning difference between theirs and other sororities, but this is a comedy not a documentary. In a funny bit of writing, they bring disgraced frat leader Teddy (Zac Efron, far funnier here than in the first) to run their house, and they’re off to the races.
There are a few things that I actually, truly loved about Neighbors 2. I thought the relationships between Moretz and her new college friends were really authentic and unlike the kind of relationships you typically see in movies like this one. You always see movies about college kids meeting and grouping, but rarely does a film tap into the palpable fear, loneliness, and alienation that leads to these friendships. The scene when the three girls sit in their dorm room, passing a joint around and getting to know each other, is genuinely sweet and smartly written. Additionally, this is the most pro-female comedy I’ve seen…maybe ever? A plot point hinges on Efron realizing what a complete tool he was in the past, even telling one of his male friends that the phrase “bro’s before ho’s” isn’t cool these days. “We don’t call them ho’s, anymore,” which isn’t great in terms of endorsing women but, guys, we’re getting there. The climax even hinges on Rose Byrne empowering the young women to be themselves and to pick themselves up when life throws them down. It’s really something quite special and unexpected. In many ways, I felt like Neighbors 2 was Seth Rogen backpedaling for a lot of his earlier career. Instead of the women being painted in a negative light, they’re put on a pedestal to such a point that the sorority never seems like that much of a bother. Maybe that’s why I liked this one a little more. They’re loud and disruptive, but they’re not being willfully malicious most of the time. And they’re certainly not screaming about dicks and pussy’s in a way that I think was supposed to play ironically but did not. There’s also an emphasis placed on a very positive gay relationship, with the movie even culminating in a gay wedding. It doesn’t feel so integrated that these points can avoid feeling like a bit of lip service. However, it’s integrated fairly well and the movie has some fun with modern day gender politics. In a particularly funny scene, Rogen and Byrne confront the sorority sisters with Rogen telling them he has no problem with anything they’re doing or will ever do, but adding “I think my wife does, though, so honey…Tell them what we talked about.”
This is not a very good movie, but it is entertaining. I laughed more in the first half hour than I did at the rest of the film, because once it becomes another series of crazy circumstances befalling the characters it became a little samey-same to me. (Also, Lisa Kudrow’s cameo is blown way too early on in the film.) The one step this movie does very much correctly, though, is that the situations Rogen and Byrne are placed in never become frustrating, which is what sank the first film for me. The police do nothing; the parents do nothing; and these kids are getting away with felony level crimes. I don’t get off on frustration comedy. A movie like What About Bob? is pretty much my worst nightmare, I don’t care who you put in it or who writes it or directs it. Sorority Rising is just silly, and parts of it are very fun. However, you have to question the effectiveness of a comedy when you leave not so much remembering the jokes, but more the message the movie tried to convey. In a lot of ways, Sorority Rising reminded me of the forgotten Identity Thief, a comedy that actually worked better when it delved into a weird kitchen sink drama. Neighbors 2 works better when it’s trying to sermonize on the inequalities women are stuck with in our society, and as a result the movie becomes a sort of fist-pump of feminism action. I didn’t love it, I’m not even sure I liked it that much, but I really appreciated it.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Written by 5 Different Guys!
Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kelsey Grammer, and Lisa Kudrow.
Rated R for crude and sexual content including brief graphic nudity, language throughout, some drug use, and teen partying.