Editor’s Notes: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is currently out in wide theatrical release.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is one of the savvier blockbuster sequels you’re likely to see this year, since the filmmakers are not only building the franchise, but charting cultural progress. Yes, “sorority” is baked right into the title, but Neighbors 2 isn’t just about situating college chicks as the villains in another next-door war. Gender politics are front and center in this film, which is all the more sneakily empowering considering it comes from five male screenwriters (Rogen and Goldberg are two of them, along with director Nicholas Stoller and original scribes Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien) known for very male-centric weed-and-party comedies. But anyone familiar with this crew’s output is aware that they have their fingers on the pulse and generate belly laughs from their brains.
Neighbors 2 isn’t just about situating college chicks as the villains in another next-door war. Gender politics are front and center in this film . . .
Here is the next step in their evolution, a raucous, irreverent comedy that not only features a prominent female character, but features about five of them, with dozens others in the periphery. And women are centered on both sides of this neighborhood divide, from the rowdy sorority sisters to the frazzled parents next door – so it’s a film about, and for, everyone. It may not be the pinnacle of feminist glory, but Neighbors 2 is a bit of a trailblazer in this genre. It’s also endlessly clever and frequently hilarious, neither of which are remotely surprising given the pedigree.
The film takes a swift shot at patriarchy from the jump, as the titular “rising” sorority’s reason for creation is to reclaim agency from the frat houses. College Freshman Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) and two friends strike out on their own when their pot-smoking ways are rejected by established sororities and they subsequently learn that only fraternities are permitted to throw parties with alcohol (a fact I was never aware of until The Hunting Ground directed my attention to it last year). So begins Kappa Nu, an off-campus organization for which booze-and-weed parties are the norm. As fate would have it, the Kappa Nu girls move into the old Delta Psi frat house, right next door to Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Rose Byrne), who are expecting their second child and are actually trying to sell the house in which they were tormented by Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) and his fraternity bros two years ago. The only hitch is they’ve entered the delicate escrow period in the real estate process. One of the film’s minor charms is how the term “escrow” is playfully mangled many times over, but in short, Mac and Kelly have 30 days to keep the house in peaceful order before the sale is finalized. During these same 30 days, Kappu Nu is attempting to build its reputation as the Party Sorority. You can tell where this is going.
Perhaps most revelatory is that Neighbors 2 sequelizes not merely the characters and humor, but also the subversive undercurrent and casual progressivism.
Stoller and his team are hip to the rules of franchise sequelization – the narrative needs to hit the familiar notes, but stakes have to get bigger and the scope has to broaden. Such is the case in Neighbors 2, as the mayhem is ramped up to a fever pitch. We get scenarios in which an airbag – the key foil form the original – is used as an intentional catapult, and there’s a Mad Max-inspired chase sequence involving the heist of a massive marijuana stash. Teddy himself returns to the fold, at first mentoring the Kappa Nu girls and later defecting to Mac and Kelly’s side when the sorority starts operating outside his control. Everyone has stakes in this war – Mac and Kelly need to maintain order if they want to sell their house, Shelby needs to boost the reputation of Kappa Nu to garner enough funds to keep the house, and Teddy is just searching for legitimacy, since he’s remained in party mode while all his friends have grown up. So the film also ups its thematic ante, though curiously decreases its running time. Neighbors 2 is nothing if not efficient…sometimes to a fault. Certain jokes feel more rushed in the film proper than they even did in the trailer, and important character beats seemed wedged in between those rushed jokes, which means the filmmakers felt the need to snip away at material that works really well just to satisfy an arbitrary length requirement. Not sure if said requirement is self-imposed or a studio thing, but either way, here is that rare example of a comedy where the “Unrated Director’s Cut” isn’t just superfluous navel gazing, but will actually reveal the best version of the movie.
The original Neighbors is an enduring gem, imminently and continually rewatchable, with so much sneakily poignant material about marriage, parenting, and the encroachment of age. Perhaps most revelatory is that Neighbors 2 sequelizes not merely the characters and humor, but also the subversive undercurrent and casual progressivism. I can’t wait to imminently and continually rewatch it.
It may not be the pinnacle of feminist glory, but Neighbors 2 is a bit of a trailblazer in this genre. It’s also endlessly clever and frequently hilarious, neither of which are remotely surprising given the pedigree.