'Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising'
Comedy sequels generally suck. We all know this. So it’s a pleasant surprise to say that ‘Neighbors 2’ doesn’t. It repeats the trick of the first movie by being better than anyone had any right to expect.
‘Neighbors‘ might be the highest grossing film on Seth Rogen’s lucrative live-action résumé, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who claims it’s his best. The movie was merely a crowd pleaser with raunch and heart and so is Round 2. That it adds a little extra satire and commentary is nice, but we’re not exactly talking about a movie that’ll spawn a million think-pieces. It’s just a clever little comedy that aims to score laughs first and sneak in some smarts seconds. It’s formulaic, but in a way that’s immensely satisfying. Best of all, it wraps up in a manner that makes it clear there will be no Part 3. That’s probably the best decision this gang made, because the fact they pulled this trick off twice is enough of a miracle. No need to push it.
The movie picks up with Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) shortly after the last movie. They have a second child on the way and are selling their house to make space for their growing family. Everything seems good to go until a sorority house opens up next door. Spearheaded by Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), this crop of college gals don’t care for the misogynistic frat party shenanigans that the last movie flaunted and also don’t take too kindly to the fact that official sororities aren’t allowed to have parties. (As the movie repeatedly insists, this is true. Google it.)
Obviously, that means the conflict from last time will kick off again, only know with a gender swap. Also, Zac Efron returns as a frat boy with nothing else on his mind. Now he’s hitting a quarter life crisis as all his friends are reaching major life milestones while he lags pathetically behind. He’s lost and decides to help the sorority become great in order to give his life purpose. It’s pathetic, but funny. So we all play along.
The intergenerational conflicts are back with Rogen and Byrne struggling to remain cool while attempting to quiet a group of college girls who dismiss them as adults without thought. Efron also represents the awkward lost age between grown-ups and college kids that seem to have no poise or purpose. This time around, there are also some inter-gender conflicts in play, but not as simplistically as one might imagine. Yes, the gals all have poignant points to make about college misogyny, but they also fling around that buzzword whenever challenged and the film has fun with the double standards that go both ways. Toss in some race and sexuality jokes on the sidelines and ‘Neighbors 2’ turns into a movie that actually touches on a lot of relevant issues from a noble middle ground that points out the idiocy of all extremes.
Plus, it has a bunch of jokes about pot and a baby playing with a vibrator. Because, you know, this is first and foremost a goof-off comedy, even if it’s made by self aware and smart people. (The script is credited to no less than five writers and they all seem to have tossed in worthy ideas and jokes rather than struggling to make this thing float.)
Rogen does his usual shtick and he’s gotten so good at it that he’s easy to take for granted, but that shouldn’t be the case. The guy has a throwaway naturalism and gift for constant gags that’s tougher to pull off than it seems. Once again, Rose Byrne is fantastic as a comedic sparring partner and frequently wins their improv battles. Chloe Moretz and her sorority sisters are all quite fun, even if they rarely register much more than individual types to pull off group jokes.
The same can be said for Ike Barinhotlz, Carla Gallo, Dave Franco and Hannibal Buress, all of whom get good scenes because they were so important last time, but don’t have nearly as much room to strut their stuff. The sequel has so many characters in play that it’s amazing director Nicholas Stoller (who gets more assured with his camerawork every time and has crowd pleasing comedy down to a science) can fit them all in. Once again, Zac Efron is the unexpected MVP. He does his damaged doofus routine again, only this time he’s even more comically and tragically lost. Efron always pulls off his scenes no matter how ridiculous, such as a sequence in which he’s baffled by the fact that boiling water makes eggs hard but pasta soft. It’s a mystery why the guy only seems capable of acting in ‘Neighbors’ movies, but at least he’s done it twice.
Look, ‘Neighbors 2’ is no masterpiece. At times it even feels a little overstuffed and sloppy. However, the original movie was no extraordinary accomplishment either and suffered from the same problems. The fact that the sequel was able to deliver the same mix of laughs and light entertainment with a couple ideas tossed in is as much as anyone could have possibly expected. It’s warm. It’s funny. It’s fun. It’s better than it had any right to be. Go see it. You won’t be disappointed if you liked the last one, and that alone makes it one of the best comedy sequels ever made. That may be faint praise, but it’s praise nonetheless.