by Austin GoldPart of what made the first Neighbors so much fun was the idea of Seth Rogen pitted against the kind of guys who’d get high and watch Seth Rogen movies. This time around we get Rogen pitted against the kind of girls who were told they wouldn’t understand Superbad because it’s “a guy movie.” We learn pretty early on that that concept is bullshit.
We’re introduced to Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) at a sorority rush event where she lights a joint and is shocked to learn that she must get rid of it because sororities in the U.S. can’t throw parties, drink or smoke in their own house; only fraternities can (this is a real thing by the way). She’s told this by the sorority’s picture-perfect president (Selena Gomez). The casting here couldn’t be more telling: on one side there’s Selena Gomez, who rose to fame through Disney Channel, and on the other is Chloë Grace Moretz, who got famous from Kick-Ass. Shelby attends a frat party and meets two other girls, Beth and Nora (Kiersey Clemons and Beanie Feldstein, respectively). The three are horrified by the party, which has a vibe that’s a bit, um, rapey. They leave and proceed to bond over their hatred of sexism in Greek life. The trio pledges to start a new independent sorority called Kappa Nu — a sorority that celebrates women and isn’t tied to a fraternity or to any of the traditional rules of Greek life.
The only problem is that they need a house, and lucky for them, the frat house from the first film is still vacant. This isn’t so lucky for next-door neighbors Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne), who have just sold their house but agreed to put in escrow, which basically means that the new owners can drop by anytime during the next month to inspect the house before making a final decision. It’s easy to see why a hard-partying sorority next door would make this difficult.
After this point, the plot is very similar to the first film, but unlike other comedy sequels that rehash their old plot structure (looking at you, The Hangover Part II) this film has a couple other nuances up its sleeve, one of which being character growth. At the end of Neighbors, Teddy (Zac Efron) learned that there was more to the world than just fraternities, but now he’s not sure if he belongs anywhere else. He’s still working as an in-store Abercrombie model while his friends are moving up and accomplishing their goals. If there weren’t so many jokes, it’d be genuinely sad. Mac and Kelly can now parent their daughter in peace, but they’re afraid that they’ll never make good parents, a fear that rises when Kelly becomes pregnant with their second child.
Another thing the film has going for it is a strong feminist message. The main conflict starts because the girls don’t feel safe around the guys at their school. They’re not asking to have special privileges or to take things away from frats; they’re just looking for a safe space to party with their friends. However, this message is dampened by the fact that the girls aren’t as well developed as the frat boys from the first film.
There are other problems too (to discuss them here would be giving too much of the plot away), but for the most part, the good outweighs the bad. The jokes are consistently funny and there are great cameos throughout. Though at times it may feel like a repeat of the first one, it brings back many of the things that made Neighbors work in the first place. Co-writer/director Nicholas Stoller has a genuine love for his characters and allows us to understand and root for both sides in the battle. He also creates a legitimately thrilling chase sequence that makes me excited about how he’ll develop as a filmmaker. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising might not “wow” you and it might not end up on your list of the year’s best films, but that should not deter you from seeing it. It’s smart dumb-fun that’s got a few things to say and a lot to laugh about.
3.5 out of 5 stars