Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

Posted by Joel Copling on May 20, 2016

"The system is rigged against us, and that's just the way it is!" So exclaims one of the trio of pot-smoking, female college students who make up our collective secondary protagonists in "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising." Yes, the surtitle suggests that this is a sequel, but the film's connection to its 2014 predecessor (an enjoyable, consistently amusing comedy about the generation gap) rides mostly upon the primary trio of protagonists, a married couple and the former head of the fraternity who terrorized them while they were trying to care for a child. The film announces that it will not only catch its audience up on each of their lives, which it does by never once ignoring an aspect of their growth in two years, but that it will also introduce to us these new characters, whom it handles with equal grace.

It's an enormous burden (and not the only one present) that the film bears remarkably well, shifting between each of the three story lines that result from its ambitions with absurd ease. The first of those once again follows Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne), the married couple from the first film who was, indeed, trying to raise their adorable daughter. Here, Kelly is expecting another child (The way she finds out is gross but funny in a way that the film pretty consistently sells us it can be), and the two are also trying to sell their house to a pair of buyers who put the house in escrow. The thirty days will give those new buyers a reason to duck out for any reason, but that'll also mean that Mac and Kelly will own two houses in escrow.

Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), that former frat president, has graduated college only to find himself in stasis with a criminal record due to the events of the previous film. His best friend Pete (Dave Franco) almost merely tolerates him at this point, and when Pete's boyfriend proposes, the natural next step is to kick Teddy out--politely, of course. It should be mentioned, obviously, that the film's down-to-earth treatment of Teddy's sexuality is commendable in a climate that treats the gay community with a spotlight and a Sharpie pen. Efron's performance is the trickiest in the film, too, because he starts at a place of resentment toward Mac and Kelly that ends up being self-consciously redirected upon them from the real source of his trouble. The actor is superb at conveying this "quarter-life crisis," as one sorority girl puts it.

The quote that begins this review is courtesy of Nora (Beanie Feldstein). She's been recruited by Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), alongside Beth (Kiersey Clemons), to fight back against a surprisingly old-fashioned, sexist collegiate culture that has mandated that sorority houses may not hold raucous parties involving beer, bongs, or anything else that fraternity parties. The rule by the Greek Council that operates within universities that have fraternities and sororities might trace back to the inception of the organization, but the point is clear: It is a legal double standard and a disgusting one that isn't likely to change unless the conversation shifts to be something more proactive. Their plan is create their own sorority, Kappa Nu, by advertising what every incoming freshman female actually wants: parties galore.

The point further stretches to the very materialistic nature of the young adult, and what the film finds, to no one's surprise, is that girls are just as prone to being sex-crazed as men are. It's not exactly a shocking revelation, but the film deals with this natural state in as empathetic a way as one can imagine. The girls feel pushback from older men trying to tell them what they think, how to act, and when to respond to such behavior. The parties are exactly to their liking, especially in comparison to an early one in which a grotesque excuse for a male student approaches Shelby and Beth (the latter an African-American woman) and propositions them with the proviso that he "has no preference" in terms of race. They eventually must lower themselves to that level, but the stakes have been established by that point.

These are real stakes, too, examined on all sides by screenwriters Rogen, Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O'Brien, Evan Goldberg, and returning director Nicolas Stoller, who borrow the general skeleton from the earlier film and place it under a new microscope. Mac and Kelly are desperate to keep afloat in an economy that has favored them even less than usual lately, and escrow is not a state in which to be while any group of like-minded people is throwing parties next door. Shelby and her fellows, meanwhile, are in just as desperate need of rent money that will ultimately add up to buckets full of cash to be deposited monthly. Teddy ensconces himself within the sorority, both to help these women make something of their college experience and to feel alive himself for the first time in several years.

Two years has done a lot for the community under examination here, including conversations about campus rape, the nature of sexism, the argument central to feminism, and where all of this is now, has been in the past, and where it is headed in the future. The first film might not have warranted a sequel, and so many of the complaints that arise will be centered around that. This just goes to show that every film, to some degree, is an island. Here, we have an autopsy on matters of the people in the form of an outrageously funny comedy sequel that proves itself not only to be warranted but downright necessary. "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising" is, odd as it feels to say it, a reflection on the times in which we currently live and, moreover, at the absurdity of those times.

Film Information

Seth Rogen (Mac Radner), Rose Byrne (Kelly Radner), Zac Efron (Teddy Sanders), Chloe Grace Moretz (Shelby), Ike Barinholtz (Jimmy), Carla Gallo (Paula), Kiersey Clemons (Beth), Beanie Feldstein (Nora), Dave Franco (Pete), John Early (Darren), Jerrod Carmichael (Garf), Kelsey Grammer (Shelby's Dad), Lisa Kudrow (Dean Carol Gladstone), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Scoonie), Hannibal Buress (Officer Watkins), Selena Gomez (Phi Lamda President).

Directed by Nicholas Stoller and written by Stoller, Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O'Brien, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg.

Rated R (crude sexual content including brief graphic nudity, language throughout, drug use, teen partying).

92 minutes.

Released on May 20, 2016.