Film Review – Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
I’m of two minds when it comes to Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016). For one, it does a good job at being about something – commenting on gender politics and the sickening rape culture that plague college campuses. On the other hand, it adheres so closely to the framework of the first film Neighbors (2014) that it pretty much plagiarizes itself. The same story beats and the same gags drag down whatever inspired ideas this had. There are a number of funny moments, often due to a sense of recognition. If it was funny before, surely it must be funny again, right? If it ain’t broke…
The story is basically the same, with Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne’s married couple coming to blows with a Greek house that moves in next door, only this time instead of a fraternity they now have to deal with a group of sorority sisters. Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Maranda (Clara Mamet) are three freshmen that are shocked to learn that college rules prevent sororities from hosting parties (incredibly, this is a real thing). Women are only allowed to attend parties at fraternity houses. When it’s revealed that these parties are a cesspool where females are treated like prostitutes, the girls decide to take matters into their own hands. They band together to start their own sorority with their own rules, where they can be themselves and party the way want to.
This is a progressive mindset that should be commended. Women should be able to party, drink, and get high just like guys do without judgment or consequence. Mostly, their hedonistic tendencies are geared toward being reckless and getting inebriated. What’s nice is how Shelby, Beth, and Maranda, while representing the movement toward gender equality, remain grounded as people. They don’t always have the right answers, and can feel lost and unsure of what to do next. It’s an important bit of dimension – they could have easily fallen into preachy territory but were rounded well enough to avoid that trap.
I wish I could say the same about the other characters. The main flaw of Neighbors 2 is how the leads seem to have gone back to their older selves. One of the biggest themes of Neighbors was about growing up and taking responsibility. Unfortunately, some characters have forgotten those lessons. Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) appear less capable as adults and as parents. They sell their house without understanding what it means to be in escrow (triggering the hostility with the sorority). Their parenting skills have devolved even worse. When their child gets a hold of a dildo, they “solve” the problem by dressing the dildo like a Barbie doll. When tensions begin to mount with the sorority, do they think to themselves “Hey, remember what happened last time, let’s not do that again?” Of course they don’t. They go back to pulling pranks like they were the same clueless people. Obviously, this is all meant for laughs, but then don’t give us a theme about reaching maturity in one movie and then do the same thing again in the second.
Zac Efron is the central point regarding this lack of development. At the end of Neighbors his character Teddy has grown up, learned the error of his ways, and started taking the necessary steps to become a full-fledged person. All of that is swept away this go around. Teddy is back to being the man-child, obsessed with the college party life. When his best friend Pete (Dave Franco) kicks him out of their apartment, Teddy runs right back to the old house, even initially joining forces with the sorority against Mac and Kelly. Efron is good at playing a buffoon; he has a sincerity that works well on screen. But that quality is pushed to the brink here. He’s so dumb that he can’t comprehend the fact that boiling water will harden eggs but soften noodles. It makes you wonder how he ever got past puberty.
Nicholas Stoller returns to direct, with a host of writing partners (Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg). Despite using the gender switch as way to keep things fresh, the structure of the plot is so familiar that it takes away from what made Neighbors such a surprise. It’s the same issue that the Hangover sequels had. The production was so fearful of going off the beaten path that we can sense where everything is heading. Jokes go for the cheap or gross out laugh, and the slapstick still has the abrupt violence we saw before. The airbag gag – in which Rogen is flung across screen as though shot out of a cannon – is just one of the many repeated punch lines that has lost its punch.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising has such conflicting aspects that it ends up being simply middling. The topic of sexual politics in college is noteworthy, but it’s wrapped in a premise that doesn’t offer anything new to the table. Who’s ready to see Neighbors 3: Mac and Kelly vs. The Lacrosse Team?