Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)

Parenthood vs. Sisterhood

Upon entering the theater to catch the sequel to the 2014 hit Neighbors, I couldn’t help but get a sense of déjà vu, feeling as though I were about to step into the exact same film, remade — think The Hangover Part II (2011). That said, my exceptions were very low, even though I thoroughly enjoyed the first outing. This however, is one instance where I’m pleased to admit that I was wrong. Directed yet again by Nicholas Stoller, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (known as Bad Neighbours 2 outside of the U.S.) works as an extension of the original picture, with Seth Rogen, This Is the End (2013), Zac Efron, Dirty Grandpa (2016), and Rose Byrne, Bridesmaids (2011), reprising their roles for this admittedly funny, progressively entertaining battle of the age-groups.

New Wardrobe. New Game Plan.
New Wardrobe. New Game Plan.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising picks up some years after the events of Neighbors, with our favorite ‘old couple’ Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) ready to move out of their existing home and into a bigger flashier one. With baby number two on the way, the Radners hit a snag when they realize that they can’t sell their current house until it makes it through escrow — whereby buyers have 30 days to inspect the property and change their minds. Enter Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), a pot-smoking college freshman eager to join a sorority. After attending a sleazy frat party, Shelby and her newfound ‘sisters,’ Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), decide that they’ve had enough of the school’s restrictive sexist system. Thankfully, the girls find the perfect spot just off campus to begin their own Sorority, Kappa Nu — the former Delta Psi house, which happens to be right next door to (you guessed it) the Radner’s escrowed property. Although Mac and Kelly understand that the girls are trying to do something affable in constructing a non-demeaning female ‘society,’ their own personal crisis trumps that of Kappa Nu, the pair pleading that the sisters put their efforts of challenging the system on hold (well, at least for 30 days).

It’s here that Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) gets dragged back into the Radners vs loud-college-kids face-off. Desperate to feel valued after all his buddies embrace adulthood while he remains stuck in retail (which is basically where we left him at the end of Neighbors), Teddy agrees to help Kappa Nu figure out a way to pay their rent whilst aiding them to become the best sorority they can be. When discarded by the ladies of Kappa Nu for being an ‘old hot person,’ Teddy willingly switches sides and joins forces with the Radners to settle the score. What ensues is a laugh out loud riot that hooks viewers in and keeps them wanting more.

Let's shut this s##t down!
Let’s shut this s##t down!

One cannot help but get a sense of the fun that was had on set whilst making the movie, this palatable energy readily translating onto the screen. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are solid as the couple trying to wing the parenting gig — convincing themselves that by being adults they’re automatically good parents — the pair showcasing an authentic and relatable bond (along with some amusing banter) throughout the majority of their scenes. The perfectly ripped Zac Efron (who’s shirtless for about 50 percent of the film) also tackles a meatier story arc as his dude-bro character starts off as a loser frat boy (who wants to relive his glory days), but winds up exposing his more vulnerable side after realizing that (he too) needs help maturing in order to pull himself out of his current runt. Of course, Efron’s performance is aided by a striptease that takes place in front of thousands (which ends rather embarrassingly). Elsewhere, Chloë Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass (2010), is great as Shelby, the freshman brought up in a strict household, now able to break free from her former shell. Here Mortez delivers a convincing portrayal of a woman who’s had enough of being treated like an object, balancing the character’s inhibitions and resolve with her own comedic chops. Although the sorority gals are seen as the ‘bad guys’ of the piece, one can not help but grow a liking towards them and what they ultimately stand against; the sexist American campus culture — honestly, there were moments where I secretly wanted them to ‘win.’

Several favorites from the first film return too, including the terrifyingly zany (now re-married) couple Jimmy and Paula, played by an over-the-top Ike Barinholtz, Sisters (2015), and Carla Gallo, Superbad (2007), whilst Dave Franco, 21 Jump Street (2012), is back as Pete, Teddy’s best friend, who exposes his true colorful self. Lisa Kudrow, Easy A (2010), has an amusing scene as Dean Carol Gladstone whereas former Disney pop-princess Selena Gomez, Spring Breakers (2012), gets a brief cameo as Madison, the president of a girly sorority, Phi Lambda Phi. In smaller parts, stand-up comedian Hannibal Buress reprises his role as Officer Watkins (a scene highlighting a few truths about police brutality is admirable), while Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad (2007), has very little to do as Teddy’s pal Scoonie.

' ... you gotta fight for your right to party!'
‘ … you gotta fight for your right to party!’

Penned by Neighbors screenwriters Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, along with Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and director Stoller, the jokes are sharper and more outrageous in this second serving (and yep, those airbags are back and they’re even funnier than before) — a recurring gag about Universal’s biggest animation property Minions feels a bit forced though. Despite the fact that the original picture lacked depth or substance, this sequel addresses several underlying issues that really resonated with me. Being a mother of two, I often feel as though I suck at the whole parenting thing, I usually don’t see myself as an adult either just like Mac (who still smokes weed) and Kelly (who still owns a dildo), with Sorority Rising acknowledging these insecurities (which I’m sure many of us have), stressing the reality that we’re all just faking it till we make it, and we’re all still growing up. As mentioned earlier, viewers also notice this development in Teddy, the king-bro recognizing that there’s a time to move on and let go of the past. Finally, it’s the strength and determination of Shelby and her sisters that call out sexism, the young ladies stressing the importance of enjoying oneself without being sexualized, realizing that it’s family and friends that ultimately matter most.

At the end of the day, the film’s characters (both old and new) show real growth, each finishing off in a better place than where they started, the narrative wrapping up in a satisfying note. With director Nicholas Stoller and the entire cast putting on their A-game, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising stands up on its own two feet, escaping the current trend of unfunny rehashed comedy sequels — yep, Zoolander 2 (2016), I’m looking at you. In sum, if I could be so bold, I’d say that Neighbors 2 is better than the first. So what are you waiting for folks, get out there and enjoy yourself some lowbrow revenge pranks.

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by L. Jackson

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is released through Universal Pictures Australia