Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising: Property Values, by David Bax
Tempting as it may be to roll your eyes at a distaff follow-up to 2014’s lazy douche-com Neighbors, being quick to judge in this case would be a disservice to the remarkable care and improvement Nicholas Stoller and his co-writers have brought to their sequel, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. Mercifully, the film does more than just slot in female college students for the dumb dudes of the previous installment. In many ways, of course, it does just that but with an understanding that a sex and drugs and partying comedy featuring young woman is inherently treading different sociopolitical ground than one featuring young men. Casual treatment of such behavior among dudes is a passive choice; the same approach for young women becomes powerful, sex-positive and truly feminist (especially for a film made almost entirely by men). Oh and it’s also incredibly, consistently, tear-inducingly funny.
Kelly (Rose Byrne) and Mac (Seth Rogen) are expecting a second child and ready to move to a new house, as soon as they make it through the 30-day escrow period while the potential buyers approve of their old one. That becomes difficult when a trio of college freshman (Chloë Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons and Beanie Feldstein) move into the former frat house next door with the aim of starting a new sorority not bound by the restrictions of the Greek system.
One of those restrictions is the prohibition against sororities throwing parties while fraternities can (technically, the real world rule is that sororities can’t have alcohol and fraternities can but, in the college social system, this amounts to the same thing). As a result, female students looking to have a good time are left with fewer options, one of the most available being parties in locations that are pointedly and exhaustingly designed to make them targets of sexual predation. This point is made solemnly by the recent documentary The Hunting Ground but Neighbors 2 covers it in one early scene where Shelby (Moretz) meets her new friends at one such shindig. It’s a comedic sequence that includes a dude (Jacob Wysocki) openly propositioning multiple girls at once to see if any of them will bite but it never loses sight of the true creepiness of it all. When we quickly transition to the ladies leaving the party and venting about it in their dorm room, it not only sets the feminist tone for the rest of the tale but also blatantly dismisses the frat ecosystem of the first movie and makes it clear we’ll be trafficking in a slightly different brand of humor this time around.
That’s not to say that Neighbors 2 is a fresh start. In fact, Stoller refreshingly avoids the system-reset problem of too many comedy sequels and instead shows an interest in his characters and how the events of the first film have shaped them. Kelly and Mac start out more confident in themselves as parents before confronting people their daughters may very well grow up to resemble, thus inviting a whole new set of questions and doubts. Most fascinating, though, is Teddy (Zac Efron), whose reintroduction is surprisingly organic and who—as someone whose best days ended when college did and who now struggles to find a place that accepts and values him—represents a fleshed out, tragicomic character. By rooting the story in these portrayals of psychologically distinct individuals (the sorority sisters included), Stoller keeps everything else in orbit, from subtle visual gags about how text message grammar differs between the old and young characters to a virtuosic heist/action/chase sequence through a massive football tailgate party. Neighbors 2 may be only a few minutes shorter than its predecessor but it feels far leaner and tighter than the post-Apatow bro fuckaround vibe of that film.
Unfortunately, a few of the bum notes of Neighbors do resurface here. By now, we’re way too far past the alt-comedy heyday to find anything transgressive about ironic racial stereotypes employed for shock humor. And, of course, that dreadful recurring airbag gag recurs once again. A CGI body suddenly flying across the screen in an otherwise aesthetically naturalistic movie is too discordant to be funny.
Those are minor quibbles though, none of them occupying too much screentime (and even the airbag thing is used a tad more creatively than before). Neighbors 2 succeeds by being both funny in every scene and by recognizing both the comedic and dramatic value of a burgeoning new wave of young feminists who may be empowered but are also still kids and therefore still prone to ridiculousness and stupidity. Lucky for us, those traits are infectious, spreading to the adults living next door as well as through the screen to us, the audience.