Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
They just couldn’t resist the urge, could they? I guess there was just too much money lying on the table to NOT make another one of these. Sequels to unexpected hits (especially comedies) are almost always underwhelming as it’s like trying to capture lightening in a bottle twice. Caddyshack 2, Ghostbusters 2, Horrible Bosses 2, you could make a neigh infinite list of them. Now the first film was a pretty solid movie that had a bit more to it than you would expect from a movie that’s essentially a prank war. Not only that, but they’re coming into this one with a decent enough idea in regards to how Sororities are viewed by the education system, even if it is a bit ridiculous that the SAME THING happens to these people twice in a row. Can this manage to be the few comedy sequels to NOT be the worst thing imaginable, or is this movie destined to be the worst thing imaginable? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins a few years after the first one ended with Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) still wasting his life away but now doing so as Pete’s roommate (Dave Franco) and Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) planning to sell their house so that they can move to the suburb. There’s a small roadblock though to their plan which is that they ALREADY bought the house in the suburb, but the house they just sold is in escrow which the movie thankfully explains is a thirty day waiting period where the buyers can back out of the deal if something were to change. That couldn’t POSSIBLY happen though, right? Well back on the college campus (what college is it anyway?) the new female freshmen are trying to get into Sorrorities, but three of them (Chloë Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons, and Beanie Feldstein) find the guidelines about not being able to party too restrictive, so they decide to start their own independent Sorority. Well SURELY they won’t end up at the EXACT same house that Teddy’s frat was at, right? Well speaking of Teddy, Pete just got engaged so Teddy has to move out which means he’s lost once again and needs to find not only a new place to stay, but some meaning in his life. Oh look! The house he used to live at! And look! The girls are touring it to see if it works for their needs! An unholy (and tenuous) alliance is born between the girls of the new Sorority (Kappa Nu) and the frat boy looking to relive his glory day, so they rent out the house to the terror of Mac and Kelly who just want to sell their place and move on with their lives. And so the war is on once again as the girls refuse to keep things quite for thirty days and the old people try to keep them from exercising their right to party! Can Mac and Kelly once again destroy the young people who are trying to fuck up their lives? Will the sisters fail in their endeavor to bring about a new kind of Sorority that’s empowering those who want to have fun but don’t want to be objectified? Things can’t get any crazier here than they did in the LAST movie… right?
Needless to say that the idea of a sequel to the original movie would not only be redundant as the whole point of the movie was about characters growing up and moving on, but that the aforementioned history of comedy sequels is rife with half-baked and exponentially worse films. This movie though? This might be the rare exception of a movie that’s at least as funny as the original and frankly might be a bit better than it. It’s definitely a more flawed movie and is pretty damn repetitive as far as structure and theming, but it had a few jokes that made me laugh out loud and managed to come to a satisfying conclusion which I thought was kind of missing from the first one. Is it great? Not really, but then neither was the first one and I don’t think anyone was expecting this movie to be good in the first place.
So what does this one manage to get right? For the most part, I would say that all the characters in here are endearing. The girls who start the Sorority make excellent points about their right to not be pegged as either pure and virginal good girls or slutty party skanks and about the system in place that tries to perpetuate those stereotypes; not to mention the toxic environment that fraternities foster and their attitudes towards women. I would contest that the point about Frats getting to have parties while Sororities don’t is a tad misrepresented as those two facts are (from my understanding) independent of each other as Fraternities and Sororities and the governed by two separate entities (NPC and IFC) with their own guidelines, so it’s not exactly hypocritical that one organization has certain rules that are different from another organization’s rules. That’s not to say it’s a GOOD thing (the fact that girls have to go to frats to party is something that REALLY should change as a lack of alternatives does not foster good behavior from the only suppliers), but they don’t actually explain this in the movie so it feels a bit misleading.
Despite that, their points are valid and all the girls are really funny in their parts; even the smaller ones like the minion pledges who show up every once in a while to do really broad slap stick gags and one of the girls named Christine played by the rapper Awkwafina who steals every scene she’s in. A major highlight of the first movie was Zac Efron whose character had a pretty heartbreaking story arc where he finds out too late that he wasted his college years partying instead of developing the skills to survive in the outside world. This movie picks up where that one left off, and his story is all about him hitting rock bottom before getting his shit together and finally growing up. Of course, he does PLENTY of dumb and funny shit along the way like using a recently cooked ham to grease himself up, but the effort put into his story arc (like in the first) is more than you would expect and comes to a satisfying, if somewhat unrealistic, conclusion. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne don’t have as much going on as they’re basically the same characters they were from the first film, but they manage to stay interesting due to the situation they find themselves in (not only with the Sorority but with Zac Efron back in the mix). Hell, even Ike Barinholtz’s character Jimmy who I barely remember in the first movie gets to have some great and sympathetic moments here as he’s basically trying to find a way to grow up now that he has a kid on the way. It’s hard to dislike anyone in this because each character is so well defined and brimming with personality which carries the movie along through some of its rougher moments.
Unfortunately, the strong characterization in this movie ends up highlighting the biggest flaw here which is the conflict itself. Everyone in here is likable and has their own personal stakes in the situation which means we want all of them to succeed and there are VERY clear solutions to avoid the two major parties (old people vs the sorority with Zac Efron as the wild card) basically doing everything they can to destroy one another. It’s frustrating to sit there and watch the girls who at first seem to be the nominal protagonist trying to buck the system do everything in their power to THEN take away all that goodwill, whether it’s completely ignoring their neighbors reasonable demands (or at least coming to a compromise over them) or going so far as to become drug lords out of nowhere. Considering how Walter White they get at one point (that’s a verb now, right?) I half expected this movie to end in a shoot-out which would be COMPLETELY deserved for how deep they get into the drug trade with such reckless abandon.
By comparison, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne don’t come off as bad, but only because of how preposterous the situation is. The first one spent time establishing why they couldn’t go to the cops or why the frat wasn’t shut down immediately, but this one decided to speed past that so as to get to the shenanigans sooner. I understand the decision there (why bore people by repeating the setup from the first movie) but it still feels like that was needed; not only to set up the tenuous logic of the movie, but to properly escalate the conflict. The first one managed to get that across pretty well with Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne breaking a promise to Zac Efron serving as the catalyst for the events to come. Here, there’s really no build up. The Sorority moves in so they can party and be themselves outside the Greek system, and then proceed to screw their neighbors over for no reason. All this makes it really frustrating to sit through as both sides have good points but are too damn stupid (or the plot is too damned contrived) to come to an answer that will make both sides happy.
Thankfully, they somehow managed to make up for some of that with the ending that manages to FINALLY find a solution rather than let the hate and animosity linger as you leave the theater. I will admit that the ending is REALLY sappy and unrealistic, but I’m a sucker for a good ending and this one managed to close the book for all the characters involved and gave them happy and satisfying conclusions. I wasn’t a huge fan of the bittersweet way that last movie ended, but now in the context of the bigger picture, it works much better for as I now know that everything turns out fine for everyone involved.
On top of the strong ending and the great characters, the movie’s greatest strength is that it’s really funny and has some of the best moments I’ve seen in a comedy all year. The girls at the sorority are probably the most consistently funny, but Zac Efron is REALLY proving himself to be a great comedic actor. I haven’t forgiven him for Dirty Grandpa just yet (it’s gonna take some time…) but he has charisma bursting from the seams along with his muscles and he perfectly inhabits this dumb guy persona. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne aren’t really stretching themselves in their roles, but they do just fine playing these characters again. Honestly, those two might be the least interesting part of the movie, but that doesn’t mean that they are bad. They just don’t particularly stand out too much compared to everything else that’s working so well around them. The best joke for me though was Ike Barinholtz dressed up as a clown at the tailgate. Some of the joke is spoiled in the trailer, but when it gets going on the full context of the scene, it left me in freaking stitches.
So what can we learn from all this? Well apparently it’s NOT impossible to make a good sequel to a comedy. Then again, we learned hat with 22 Jump Street but Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s ENTIRE CAREER is about doing what should be impossible. I think this movie has some structural problems that weren’t present in the first film (a half assed conflict and poor pacing early in the second act) but the writing feels sharper, it has a message it’s sort of trying to impart, and the characters (old and new) bring so much to the roles they’re given. I definitely recommend this movie, especially if you were a fan of the first one. If you actively hated the first Neighbors, then you may not find much here considering it’s practically the same movie, but other than that there’s a lot her to enjoy and just enough to chew on to make it more than simply dumb fun. Whatever they do though, they better not make a sequel. They did the nigh impossible by not only making a solid sequel but also having a satisfying conclusion for everyone in this, and they BETER not fuck that up!
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