Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising Raises the Stakes
Seth Rogen and Zac Efron are back in a sequel to a movie that didn’t need a sequel. But is that a bad thing? We’ll find out here. When Neighbors, or Bad Neighbours as it’s called in Europe, came out in 2014 I was incredibly excited to see it and it rose beyond my expectations. The film did everything that I wanted it to. It was hilarious and it didn’t stop. There was never a dull moment. Nick Stoller’s comedy did exactly what he and his cast set out to do and did it well. It’s honestly a no-brainer that they’d make a sequel. When something makes money in Hollywood, Hollywood wants to make more money so they do it again. It’s simple math.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising does some things surprisingly well, and did some other expected things that were neither good nor bad. Zac Efron’s character continues to grow in this film. He’s probably the most complex character we have in the series as we’re always getting more insight into his adult dilemma of “finding a calling”. There’s something about Efron that is surprising to many, his strength in comedy. His comedic timing and delivery is so unexpectedly refreshing that it calls to be discussed all by itself. It’s clear the writers learned to play to Efron’s strengths. Teddy, Efron’s character, is constantly trying to use his sex appeal to get what he wants. He even dances shirtless, covered in chicken grease (since they forgot the oil at home), to distract the sorority while Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, and friends steal the garbage bags filled with marijuana at a block party…that’s honestly a sentence I never thought I’d have to type, but I’m not entirely upset that I did. It’s moments like these where I couldn’t help but laugh out loud (maybe too loudly).
[Efron's] comedic timing and delivery is so unexpectedly refreshing that it calls to be discussed all by itself.
There’s a major mix of laugh-out-loud comedy and dry heaving from disgust in this film. While maybe that low brow comedy is something you’ll enjoy, I do tend to have trouble finding the humor in…well, bloody tampons being thrown at Mac (Rogen) and Kelly’s (Byrne) house and one even landing in Mac’s mouth. Yet again, another sentence I never thought I’d have to type. Though knowing this is a Seth Rogen film, I probably should have seen it coming. Don’t get me wrong, I wholly understood the series that I was going to see in theaters. Neighbors had some very disgusting low brow comedy as well, but it feels like they really amped it up in this film. I get it, bigger is better when you’re making a sequel. It’s just that for me, low brow comedy is very hit or miss. Again, that isn’t to say that the comedy isn’t done well in the film. It’s not like there’s no tact to it. The characters and film all know exactly what they’re getting into and they play to their strengths, the same way Efron plays to his.
The part of Neighbors 2 that makes it a good comedy is the timing. These actors are timing masters. Whether it’s Efron’s confused face, Rose Byrne blurting out something completely inappropriate, Seth Rogen’s stylings, or Chloe Grace Moretz completely oblivious to “old people things”, all of them know exactly what they’re doing and that makes for an incredibly enjoyable ride. So, what exactly does Neighbors 2 do to set it apart from the first Neighbors film? Well, nothing. We’re in an era now where comedy sequels aren’t supposed to change the pace or arc, all they’re supposed to do is give us more of the stuff that we fell in love with the first time. Look to The Hangover or 21 Jump Street; these films found their stride and knew exactly what the audience wanted. This is something I’ve been okay with for a while, especially in 22 Jump Street where they literally make fun of the audience for paying to see the same movie again. This evolution of comedy, to me, feels natural and logical. It’s not a drama or action film, there doesn’t need to be an extension of the plot or a more in-depth look into the backstory of our characters. All we need is more funny moments. All we want to see is our characters get stuck in the same exact position they were in the first time. This, however, is where one of my main gripes comes from with Neighbors 2.
We’re in an era now where comedy sequels aren’t supposed to change the pace or arc.
A quick synopsis to get us started here. Mac and Kelly are selling their house and they’ve recently entered Escrow. A sorority moves in next store and wants to become the first sorority to throw parties in their house. Mac and Kelly decide to go next door and bluntly ask the girls not to throw a party for just 30 days so that they can sell the home, and the girls obvioulsy refuse. I get that this is the whole plot of the story but logically this issue is easily fixable. The girls reason for saying no is that they need to raise money from their house parties so they can pay rent for the house. Had they told Mac and Kelly this I believe the next course of action would be, “We’ll pay your five thousand dollars rent for the month. Just let us sell our house and leave.” I’ll always have trouble with films who tiptoe past a logical explanation where their story wouldn’t need to take place. All they had to do was give us a little more as to why the sorority wouldn’t abide by Mac and Kelly’s request.
There's a strange balance in this film between feminist ideals and mocking the idea of political correctness. The sorority is all about empowerment. Their whole reason for starting their own sorority is because they're sick of the way women are treated by fraternities as sex objects. So when they ultimately are forced to throw the kind of party they came to despise at the end of the film it makes for some interesting growth. But the film does poke jabs at the idea of throwing the phrase "sexist" around a ton. There's an interesting balance of having strong female characters who refuse to rely on their sex appeal while still being able to write out a basket full of sex jokes at the expense of everyone in the cast. No one is safe. Surprisingly this is what confused me the most while watching the film, though it was a good confusion. I really understood what the writers and cast were going for with this jab and in the wave of the feminist movement today it felt surprisingly refreshing to get that balance.
What is good comedy if it doesn’t push the envelope?
Nick Stoller’s sequel to Neighbors does exactly what he and his cast wanted to do which was make a second Neighbors. The film is the same as the first. Replace the fraternity with a sorority, throw in some changes to the character chemistry, and you have yourself a sequel. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so. I understand that this is what comedies will be doing for a while. If I love a comedy and they make a sequel, I want the same film. I want to laugh at more of the same stuff. That’s why I loved the first one. Does Neighbors 2 take it a little too far at times, making some incredibly gross jokes that could make you feel really uncomfortable? Of course it does, but what is good comedy if it doesn’t push the envelope. In the words of John Cleese, “all comedy is critical.” It has to mix things up. Neighbors 2 is a fine sequel to the first film and if you loved the first you’ll most likely enjoy the second. If you didn’t? Well I think you can probably figure out the answer to that one on your own.