The Surprisingly Progressive Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

neighbors 2

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Opens May 20

Neighbors, the enjoyable 2014 movie about new parents waging war with the frat next door, was not high on anyone’s list of movies that needed a sequel, and the here-we-go-again premise of part two—this time, a sorority!—reeked of laziness when it was announced. But Neighbors 2 not only improves on its predecessor, it serves as a model for cinematic inclusiveness, with a casually diverse cast, feminist undertones and easy acceptance of different types. Everyone knew it could be this easy to expand Hollywood’s perspective; it’s nice to get validation.

What made the original Neighbors appealing, other than Rose Byrne’s and Zac Efron’s comic turns (they return as scheming wife Kelly and ultimate bro Teddy), was its thoughtful look at generational conflicts. Parents Kelly and Mac (Seth Rogen) were reluctant to admit their youth was over, given their new responsibilities, while Teddy was in denial about a post-grad life he had not prepared for. Those ideas are deepened here, relatively. The adults fret about what kind of parents they are, while Teddy is stung as his peers rack up milestones. He just wants to be valued, a repeat line Efron makes funny and endearing in equal measure.

The appearance of a sorority startup (led by Chloë Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons and Beanie Feldstein, all terrific) exacerbates these tensions, threatening a home sale and acting as a warning for what Mac and Kelly’s daughter could grow up to be. Meanwhile the ever-adrift Teddy, too immature for everyone else, finds himself too old for the first-years. Another war, with shifting alliances, ensues.

On the youth side, the girls adjust to independence and deal with everyone’s expectations; the film doesn’t exactly probe the issues of campus rape and female representation, but those do serve as motivation, which gives Neighbors 2 more bite than it would have otherwise. The sorority girls want to party on their own terms, without objectification or danger, and their struggle to maintain these ideals adds real stakes, which helps maintain interest in the laugh-light final act. (Overall the film is tighter and more visually interesting than the average improv-heavy comedy.)

Having the “right” politics doesn’t make a film worthwhile, but this is unexpectedly urgent, scoring points against a timely and important target that’s been unexplored. Just a year after Fury Road blazed a corrective through another male-centric genre, Neighbors 2 does more than takes back the night, it takes back bro comedies.

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