Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016) by Nicholas Stoller
Review by Zach Dennis
The studio comedy can be one of the most phoned in products in all of cinema because it usually doesn’t cost much to make and relies heavily on improvisation coupled with an almost kinship-based rapport among the actors, forming a relatable community. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising doesn’t really have any business being a movie, especially since the first one brought a sense of closure to all of the characters involved.
Sadly that is not how the business works.
Regardless of that decision, this comedy sequel is able to feel familiar — with many of the same rhythms from the first one — but also generates a sense of freshness and intuitiveness. Led by writer/director Nicholas Stoller, Neighbors 2 becomes more of an examination into the crossroads of life and what it means to find yourself rather than just being another jock-laden, marijuana-induced party that feels like it will never end.
Following the events of the first movie, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) have had their first child and are looking to make a move to the suburbs to focus on the creation of their family. A bid has been made on the house and now they wait for 30 days of escrow (your welcome world because now we know what that word means) before moving on with their lives.
Speaking of moving on with their lives, Teddy (Zac Efron) is on the edges of the life that he established in the first movie. His best friend, Pete (Dave Franco), has come out and is engaged to his boyfriend while the rest of his friends continue to move up the ladder with their respective jobs. In Teddy’s case, the prime years are behind him and life is now at that point between college and beginning the “rest of your life.”
It is just the beginning of that first leg for Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), who are freshmen in college and looking to pledge a sorority. Too bad sororities cannot throw parties and the ones they can attend are dominated by sex-obsessed boys and punch laced with every drug imaginable. The girls are looking for something more meaningful and substantial in their lives and that means opening up a sorority of their own — next door to Mac and Kelly.
A lot of the same beats of Neighbors are brought up again in Sorority Rising, namely the back-and-forth between the married couple and the group of girls at the sorority. After a brief stint helping the girls, Teddy — who was asked by Pete to move out —decides to shack up with Mac and Kelly in order to join forces and take these girls down. But where Neighbors 2 detours from its predecessor is in its interest in a more socially conscious plot — one that is curious about the roles of gender in modern culture.
It is kind of interesting that this movie decides to go that route. Rogen has carved a path for himself as the lovable slacker pothead, who seems to overcome these deficiencies to create an okay life for himself. Stoller, who previously worked on Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him To The Greek, is a director who has worked on similar characters in arrested development. The same could be said for Efron, who since his introduction with Disney movies, has seemed to latch onto beefcake roles that require him to flex his muscles rather than his acting chops.
There seems to be a complexity to his role in this film as the story allows him to explore what it means to find purpose in life, especially when you are the last person in the group and need some guidance. Efron plays it with such a playful and insecure exuberance that, coupled with his god-like body, creates an engaging and identifiable character in the same sense as Channing Tatum in the Jump Street series.
But, the real gift of this movie is its ability to open up the gates for this group of ladies, led by Grace Moretz and Clemons, who are asked to explore different personality traits and qualities rather than the usually regulated stereotypes that come packaged with being in a sorority or being in college in general.
Instead of going to keggers, they’re hosting feminist icon parties and parading around the house dressed as Joan of Arc and Oprah. Each of these characters is asked to become the person that they want to be and to explore what that means. While it doesn’t make them immune to the generic tendencies of being a girl (like you wouldn’t stop to watch Zac Efron dance shirtless), it does have the audacity to ask these girls to be something more than just their perceived stereotypes that is more familiar in these types of movies.
While it wasn’t a perfect movie, Neighbors did have an interest in examining the ideas of growing older and losing that sense of freedom that is affiliated with college life, and the sequel continues that exploration, but by adding a few layers to it. By the end, the girls have created a lasting friendship that is both healthy and strong as well as a sorority that should allow them to continue to thrive.
Teddy has found himself a job and shown his friend that he can be more than just the same happy-go-lucky jock, who planned the parties and pranks in the first movie. And for Mac and Kelly, they are parents of two and are settled into an important step in the journey of life.
Neighbors 2 has its silly studio comedy tendencies, but it also is a comedy that is interested in much more than just making you laugh at a dick joke. It is a small examination at the growth in life and the in between nature that comes from growing out of the comfortable roles of college or no children or easy job and challenges both the characters and you to examine yourself and whether this is space you are supposed to be in.