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Review: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)

Directed by: Nicholas Stoller

Premise: A sequel to the 2014 film. A married couple (Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne) attempts to close the sale of their house when a sorority rents the home next door. The young women and the middle aged couple engage in a battle of wills aided by a former frat brother (Zac Efron).

What Works: Neighbors 2 is an uneven movie but about half of the picture has some really funny and sharp humor to it. This film takes on the sexism and double standards of American culture, the university Greek system, and the comedy genre and has fun at their expense. As revealed in the opening scene, college sororities are not allowed to sponsor parties or similar events at their houses but fraternities are and that has centered the college social experience within male spaces that cater to male desires. A group of freshman women decide they’re not having it and form their own sorority in what was the frat house in the original Neighbors. This house becomes a space for the women to cut loose and party but without the pressure to cater to men or the implicit threat of sexual assault. These aspects of Neighbors 2 play on some of the clichés of the comedy genre and in particular the college comedy. Movies like Animal House, Van Wilder, and even the original Neighbors have a lot of sexism and tend to operate under masculine ideas about what is funny and how college ought to be. Neighbors 2 inverts some of those ideas and draws attention to the double standards in our expectations of men and women’s behavior. When Neighbors 2 does that the film manages to be smart and a little subversive.

What Doesn’t: The subversive qualities of Neighbors 2 only occupy about half of the content of this film. The other half is a lazy reiteration of the original movie, watered down and with the gravitas removed. As silly as the original Neighbors was, the movie was underscored by some authentic human moments. In the 2014 film, the couple, played by Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne, faced parenthood and realized that their youth was behind them. The college guys went through a similar transformation, in particular the frat brothers played by Zac Efron and Dave Franco, who came to realize that their college days were ending and that the minutia of fraternity life that they thought was so important was about to evaporate. That material gave the original Neighbors a heart that the sequel lacks. The parents played by Rogan and Byrne don’t grow as characters. Zac Efron returns as the former fraternity member, now drifting aimlessly through post-graduation life. His search for purpose has the potential to give the movie some substance but the subplot is squandered. The women of Neighbors 2 don’t go through anything transformative either. Even as the movie sends up sexism it doesn’t do it in a very imaginative way. The sorority sisters speak about liberation but apparently all that means is getting hammered and being as obnoxious as the guys. Neighbors 2 only runs ninety-two minutes but the movie is very padded. The middle of the picture is taken up by the back and forth between the sorority and the married couple but nothing in Neighbors 2 is as funny or as inventive as what was in the original movie; the best the filmmakers can do is a recurring gag in which the daughter constantly finds the wife’s sex toy. Worst is the ending of the picture. The conflict is based on the couple passing through their escrow period, which the sorority threatens to derail. The moviemakers lose the narrative thread and they aren’t able to bring that conflict to a relevant solution, instead opting for a deus ex machina conclusion that doesn’t really resolve anything. Also, Neighbors 2 makes some retroactive changes to the returning characters that don’t make sense. Namely, Dave Franco’s character is revealed to be gay but that doesn’t make sense given the plot of the original film.

Bottom Line: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising has enough in it that is promising to make the overall shortcomings of the movie doubly disappointing. There are flashes of intelligence and humor but on the whole this film is a weak and frequently lazy reiteration of the original movie.

Episode: #596 (May 29, 2016)