By Laurie Coker
Nothing about Neighbors warranted me wanting to see the second installment, Neighbors 2, but because I am part of a couple and he “likes this kind of movie,” I went grudgingly to the screening. Two years after the first, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising catches us up with Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Bryne) and Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron). Thankfully, with the addition of Chloë Grace Moretz (Shelby) and fresher writing by Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, director Nicholas Stoller’s second try is actually better – i.e. not nearly as painful to watch as the first. Staying true to form, Stoller riddles his film with disgusting debauchery, but manages to find a kinder balance between deliberate degeneracy and moral messages.
On the brink of selling their home, Mac and Kelly, find themselves in a thirty-day escrow. Facing two mortgages if the buyers back out, they work to keep things quiet and in order in case the buyers pop by, but things look bad when a fledgling sorority, led my Shelby and her two like-minded “sisters” Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), rents the house next door. Much like the first, the battle is on and things get completely wild. Teddy, whose friends have “grown up,” meets the girls and at first acts as a mentor to torment the Radners, but when he realizes lunacy of their depravity and behavior, he switches sides and helps Kelly and Mac go into battle against the babes.
Wisely, filmmakers chose to make the girls incoming freshman, allowing for Teddy to be considered “older” by their standards, and making key gags and jokes more laughable. Cameos by Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Scoonie) and Dave Franco (Pete), whose characters have matured, put things in perspective for Teddy. However, is it not until after he makes a complete and utter fool of himself that he snaps to reality. There are a few other key cameos and some genuinely funny moments , but more than that, Cohen and O’Brien offer up timely social themes about gender equality, parenting, and anti-sexual violence lift the film above the crass and crude jokes and silly slapstick. Mac and Kelly struggle to parent their precocious toddler while still digressing into childish antics, all in the name of securing the sale of their house. It is a bit cringe worthy watching their banter about being bad parents, especially when Mac is tossing bongs out the window and daughter, Stella’s (Zoey Vargas) favorite play toy is her mother pink sex toy, but even elements of these interactions have notable messages to offer.
I actually enjoyed the entire cast this time and their characters. None of the sorority girls are as moronic or destructive as the boys were in the first film, and while they do seem to live to party, the theme of sorority college girls being little more than scantily clad ditzes who attend parties to be objects of fraternity lust fests, shines negative light on the degradation that happens and serves as the reason the three buddies seek to start their own sorority. Moretz, Clemmons, and Feldstein make excellent rivals for Mac, Kelly and Teddy, who enlist friends Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo) to ruin the girls’ chances of earning the money to pay rent. That said, this is NOT a kid’s film. It is rated R for good reason and the messages are geared towards college-aged adults and older.
I credit the girls (yes, I mean characters and gender) for making Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, better than the first Neighbors. The male writers seem to understand, too, that there can be chaos without going completely over the top and that works in the film’s favor as well. I know I am not the target audience, and I never understood the popularity of the previous film, but I am placing a C+ in my grade book, much higher than the F I gave the other. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising does many things I found in poor taste for sure and for every quality message it offers there is at least one that is demonstrative or exceptionally poor taste.