Get him to the Greek system.
If Neighbors was looking to join the ranks of great frat-house comedies, then Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising aims to twist the film sub-genre on its head. The new comedy, again directed by Nick Stoller, both is funnier than its predecessor and offers a significant amount more depth in what it’s aiming to do.
Neighbors 2 (Bad Neighbors 2 outside the US) picks up with Mac Radner (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) several years after the events of Neighbors, with the couple and their young daughter Stella ready to move out of their own home into a bigger place where they can expand their family.
Their plans hit a snag when they realize they can’t sell their home until it makes it through escrow. (An ongoing and hilarious gag throughout the film is their lack of understanding what “escrow” is.) They just need to make it through 30 days without the buyers backing out — which of course quickly proves to be more difficult than it seems.
Enter newcomer to the franchise Chloe Grace Moretz, who plays pot-loving college freshman Shelby. She is desperate to join a sorority (led by a funny Selena Gomez) but gets turned off by their strict rules and the fact that sororities aren’t allowed to throw parties within the Greek system; only frats can. Yes, that’s true, and yes, the movie wants you to know that the rule is crazy.
Shelby sets out with some of her fellow wannabe sisters, played by Kiersey Clemons and Beanie Feldstein, to make the first sorority that can party. Thus they rent out the old Delta Psi house next door to the Radner’s home for their new sorority, Kappa Nu.
Like in Neighbors, there are no “villains” in this movie — even Kelly and Mac admit that Kappa Nu is trying to do something good in creating their partying, non-stereotypical sorority. But also like in Neighbors, the Radners’ personal crisis trumps the crazy partying the sorority wants to do, and it’s there that Sorority Rising’s conflict lies.
Zac Efron’s Teddy Sanders gets pulled back into the Radners-vs-Greek system battle when he tries to help Kappa Nu be the best partying sorority it can be. He’s desperate to be valued after all his friends headed into adulthood and he remained stuck in the same position that audiences left him in at the end of Neighbors.
When he is discarded by the ladies of Kappa Nu for being an “old person” — albeit a hot one — he joins forces with the Radners to get his revenge. Pranks, destroyed property and pork fat-lubed strip teases ensue.
Many favorites from the first film return in smaller roles, with some nice development for Dave Franco’s Pete, and Ike Barinholtz’s Jimmy and Carla Gallo’s Paula being more terrifyingly crazy than ever. The smaller roles are populated with funny comedians who make the most of their screentime, from a quick but brilliant sequence with Hannibal Buress’s Officer Watkins to great moments with Abbi Jacobson and Billy Eichner’s new characters.
Neighbors screenwriters Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien returned for Sorority Rising, and Stoller, Rogen and Evan Goldberg also lent their talents to the script. As a result, the jokes are often sharper and funnier in Neighbors 2, both when they pertain to the gender disparity commentary and when they’re just being silly.
The commentary on gender inequality is surprisingly pointed and allows Sorority Rising to be elevated above its sub-genre. Looking back at IGN’s review of Neighbors, it feels like the sequel directly responded to one of the main criticisms; we called it “a very silly film that that has little in the way of depth or substance, but enough jokes to ensure that such superficiality doesn’t really matter.”
Here, there is an attempt to get at a real cultural issue through comedy, and more often than not it works. Stoller clearly is aware of the sexist stereotypes Neighbors perpetuated, and sought to spin them on its head. But Neighbors 2 isn’t an issues movie; it’s a comedy first and foremost that is strengthened by the fact it has a strong message this time.
Stoller is also clearly aware that this movie follows the familiar pattern of the first film, and often pokes fun at it. The sequel’s self-awareness is its strength. Its jokes occasionally get in the way of its story, with the comedy set pieces sometimes overpowering what is a pretty straightforward premise, but not in a way that is significantly distracting. Even though this film isn’t as much about the bromance between Teddy and Mac, it still has a similar amount of heart to the first movie.
It helps that there’s real growth for Mac, Kelly and Teddy by the end of the film, as well as the new characters like Shelby. They all are in better places than where they started, literally and figuratively. Could there be a Neighbors 3? The movie ends at a pretty good place, but when Stoller created a sequel as great as this one, there surely will be people ready to go back to this world.