Airbag pranks. Impeccable De Niro impressions. Rose Byrne finally using her natural Australian accent. Standard man-child-needs-to-grow-up drama. New parent anxiety. Seth Rogen and Zac Efron standing shirtless outside a Abercrombie and Fitch. Dildo fight.
Those are the things I immediately remember about Neighbors, which pitted a Zac Efron-led fraternity against Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne in a territorial fight to the death. I more remember how big of a hit it was two years ago (e.g., third highest opening weekend for an R-rated comedy, 2014’s twentieth highest-grossing film and eleventh most profitable, ahead of blockbusters like Battle of Five Armies, Days of Future Past, Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla and Interstellar). A sequel was inevitable, albeit only after the cast negotiated budget-elevating pay raises (Neighbors‘ budget= $18m; Neighbors 2=$35m).
We’ve seen this story countless times before, though. A movie comes out of nowhere to make a lot of money, and a couple of years down the road a sequel is crapped out by the Hollywood machine, mostly playing to less enthusiastic reactions because the creative spark doesn’t strike as hot the second time around and the cultural moment has passed. Heck, the only two R-Rated comedies with bigger opening weekends than Neighbors (Ted and Sex and the City) both produced significantly lower-grossing sequels which history would rather forget.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is the completely surprising exception. While it inevitably treads familiar dramatic territory (e.g., Efron’s still struggling to find his purpose in life outside the fraternity), it ultimately tells a better, more interesting story laced with an incredibly of-the-moment feminist commentary.
More importantly, it’s really, really funny. I laughed out loud multiple times, somehow never tiring of all the pratfalls, drug humor and general R-rated shenanigans. Much of the humor is similar in nature to the first movie, but a mere gender-switch to the central formula (i.e., this time, it’s the girls who are allowed to misbehave) livens things up considerably. Plus, director Nicholas Stoller makes efficient use of quick cuts and montage to pack in the jokes (e.g., a very short slow-mo shot of Efron fighting back tears while night running as Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself” plays in the background is all we need to get the point about his state of mind).
Byrne’s character is pregnant, and they’re preparing to move into a bigger house. However, their old home is stuck in escrow for 30 days. At any point during that time, the buyers (an underused Abbi Jacobson and Sam Richardson) can back out without penalty, which would royally screw Byrne and Rogen (who only pretended to understand when their realtor previously warned them about escrow).
Wouldn’t you know it, at that exact moment a trio of college freshman (Chloe Grace Moretz, Dope‘s Kiersey Clemons and Beanie Feldstein) rent the old fraternity house next door and (with Efron’s help) turn it into an unofficial sorority whose entire appeal is that they’ll throw lots of parties, something actual Greek-affiliated sororities aren’t allowed to do. Rogen and Byrne politely ask them to just hold off on partying for 30 days, but those parties (and the related cover charges) are the only way they can raise their rent money every month.
There’s your conflict, yet both sides manage to seem sympathetic. It’s Adults In the Midst of a Housing Crisis vs. Teenage Girls Standing Up to the Stupid Greek System. Let the inevitable prank war begin!
As with all Seth Rogen movies, there is at least an attempt to ground all of this in some rite-of-passage-related character drama. For example, at its heart the first Neighbors was about a group of people learning to accept adulthood. Rogen and Byrne embraced their new role as parents (but on their terms), and Efron eventually realized the spectacular now of frat life is not something you can stay in forever.
That was buried underneath a lot of bro humor, though. Plus, Byrne defiantly declaring herself (and behaving like) the Kevin James of the relationship was far more interesting than the more familiar drama being acted out by Rogen or Efron.
By comparison, Neighbors 2 is not quite as unified in its themes, yet it ultimately feels more satisfying, tying everything together in a surprisingly feminist message.
Rogen and Byrne, whose daughter keeps finding her vibrator and carrying it around like a doll, are beginning to wonder if they’re bad parents. Efron is adrift in life, searching for his purpose and falling way behind his old frat friends (Dave Franco, Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who’ve already found their’s. The sorority girls are out on their own in the world for the first time and leaning on each other for support.
There is, however, a
slight power imbalance. By virtue of its zeitgeisty nature, everything going on with the sorority sisters, from their nightmare visit to an incredibly rape-y frat party to their getting-to-know-each-other conversations to the way they make their pledges dress and behave like Minions, tends to pull focus from the returning Neighbors characters. If you remove Rogen, Byrne and Efron and just focus on the sorority sisters you could have a perfectly entertaining House Bunny/Revenge of the Nerds-esque comedy. Maybe then all the sorority sisters around Moretz, Clemons and Feldstein wouldn’t seem like a bunch of unnamed extras.
Perhaps that will be fodder for some kind of spin-off down the road. As is, Neighbors 2 does at least shine a light on something most of us didn’t know, namely that sororities aren’t allowed to throw parties but fraternities are. That’s some bullshit. If Neighbors 2 is any indication, some girls throw way better parties than guys.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While it inevitably treads familiar dramatic territory, Neighbors 2 ultimately tells a better story laced with an incredibly of-the-moment feminist commentary. More importantly, it’s really, really funny. I laughed out loud multiple times, somehow never tiring of all the pratfalls, drug humor and general R-rated shenanigans. Much of the humor is similar in nature to the first movie, but a mere gender-switch to the central formula makes it all seem so much more interesting.
61% – “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising may not be strictly necessary, but it still wrings a surprising amount of humor from a recycled premise with a distaff twist. “
Sidebar: There are multiple scenes, individual moments and lines in that trailer which aren’t in the final movie. For example, if you love how the sorority sister played by Beanie Feldstein flips off Rogen in slow-motion as she’s flying through his windshield you’re in for a disappointment. That scene is indeed in the movie, but that specific part of it isn’t. Down the road, I wonder what else we’ll find in the deleted scenes section of the Neighbors 2 Blu-Ray.