Despite opening with Seth Rogen’s familiar grunts of passion, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising has no intention of safely lambasting Greek Life culture for a second time. The boys may be back, but it’s the women who take Nicholas Stoller’s hilarious sequel by the balls, demanding comedic equality while eviscerating skewed perceptions. Refreshingly, female characters are granted the hard-earned respect they deserve. Pro-feminist, pro-LGBT, pro-WHATEVER, this is no mere movie. It’s a damning response that hears a growing chorus of voices, and loudens their cries with a Hollywood megaphone. Sure, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s five-man writing team may aggressively force their agenda at times, but that doesn’t make their message any less true – or necessary.
You saw Neighbors, so Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising shouldn’t come as a structural surprise. Once again, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) square off against rowdy college kids living next door. The boys of Delta Psi Beta are long gone, and in come the girls of Kappa Nu – a sorority started by three loners (Chloë Grace Moretz as Shelby, Kiersey Clemons as Beth and Beanie Feldstein as Nora) who are sick of skeevy frat dens.
Since college-sanctioned sororities aren’t allowed to throw parties, these girls go off the grid and start Kappa Nu, much to the dismay of the Radners. This isn’t just about keeping their daughter safe, though. The Radners are currently in escrow on their house, and have 30 days before the sale is approved. As long as Kappa Nu doesn’t scare away the prospective buyers, Mac and Kelly are in the clear. I mean, really – what are a few pot-smoking, house-trashing, bikini-wearing chicks capable of anyway?
So, so f#cking much. This is a comedy with a sense of obligation towards society’s forced generalization of the female experience. Reparations are immediately offered in the form of gratuitous Zac Efron ab shots, but Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising goes far beyond its duties, offering support instead of weak apologies.
Listen, Neighbors is worthy douche-bro hilarity in my book, which only makes Nicholas Stoller’s infinitely funnier (and socially relevant) sequel that much more impressive. Teddy (Zac Efron), Pete (Dave Franco) and the Delta gang are all about gags and cheap tricks, but the Kappa Nu girls launch more savvy, manipulative and (shudders) bloody attacks. Even better, they’re fighting for SOMETHING, not just the authority to rage onward.
These sisters embark on a quest to become free-spirited women who shouldn’t constantly feel unsafe around circling fraternity bros. Sororities have been relegated to wet t-shirt contests and jello wrestling for too long, as izod-clad “knights” swill alcohol and cheer like hormonal hyenas. This is a rallying cry for women who deserve better, and a wake-up call for guys who are just “carrying tradition” and purporting even grosser cinematic stereotypes.
Granted, even I walked out of my Neighbors 2: Sorority Row screening thinking “OK, times aren’t great, but some of the social justice fighting was a bit overblown.” Then I logged onto Facebook and immediately saw one video about a film critic refusing to review Paul Feig’s all-female Ghostbusters movie, a “mean-tweets” farce where men had to read random comments to the faces of female sportscasters (gut-wrenching), and 1,000 more examples of mansplaining that was dumber than anything Rogen or Goldberg could ever imagine. All of a sudden, drunk assholes running around squirting girls’ chests with water guns and blatant “I just got Cosby’ed!” jokes don’t seem so far-fetched. Can it be true that something so exploitative in nature is actually one of the ballsier, more outspoken female activist films in the last few years?
Of course, without strong female characters, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising would be just another frat-humor comedy with little relative value outside situational laughs. This is where the girls of Kappa Nu take over, led by Chloë Grace Moretz and her angsty millennial disgust. Moretz is bold and funny, while her clan provides a surprisingly physical breakout from Beanie Feldstein, along with Kiersey Clemons’ hilarious kinda-good-girl charms. These ladies are devious, clueless and representative of a larger ideal that more girls should feel empowered to grasp – which we, as a society, have to make accessible.
The old-timers aren’t to be messed with, either. Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen speak up for the scared, fearless parents that younger generations can only hope they’ll evolve into. They’re honest “fuck-ups” who let Stella (Elise/Zoey Vargas) play with dildos and eat weed nuggets, yet valiantly wage war with more energy than their younger counterparts. Byrne’s ability to go from a pouty puppy dog to a roaring lion remains unmatched, while Rogen’s painted-on abs are worn like a badge of parental honor. These two are committed no matter what they do – marriage, parenting, prank wars – evoking the sturdy beams of devotion every relationship should be built on. Perfection is a fantasy, while the Radners possess a realness that audiences should envy.
Or you can be Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo), which is totally fine, too. I mean, Ike Barinholtz DOES achieve the biggest laughs as a hellishly-costumed clown, and Carla Gallo is too good at playing, well, everything Paula stands for (trashy, too-old party girl).
And how can we forget the hypnotizing beauty of Zac Efron, playing a hopeless, forever-frat-brother in Teddy? His job modeling at Abercrombie & Fitch goes nowhere, so he moves in with Kappa Nu as an adviser. This goes horribly, so he defects to Team Radner, which re-kindles a more mature bro-bond with Rogen’s Mac.
Teddy is a dumb, wounded animal who never wants to grow up and freaks out when his best-bud Pete asks him to move out (after getting engaged). While this is the slightest arc of all – ridiculous man-child forced to embrace responsibility – Efron’s obvious sexual manipulation provides non-stop laughs, as Teddy rises with the fury of a thousand hazing paddles.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is far more than a cash-grab sequel or a minimal-effort franchise floater. Very rarely does Hollywood permit a sequel of this caliber, especially given how vocal Rogen’s crew gets about certain issues. It’s hilariously poignant and unabashedly honest, but never to a fault. Think less “drunk guy at a party ranting incoherently,” and more “Hannibal Buress exposing Bill Cosby through comedy” (Oh yeah – Hannibal’s cameo made me pee a little). We need movies that are willing to latch onto conviction with such courage, because this is what comedy does best – address tough issues through humor, satire and a hell of a lot of pointed shame.
It's fitting that Neighbors 2, Stoller's socially stinging, sorority-based sequel, has double the balls and laughs as its dude-bro predecessor.