I don’t know when I turned into a Seth Rogen fan, but after falling for This is the End, Neighbors, The Night Before and even The Interview to a degree, his films just work for me now in a way they didn’t years ago. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising continues this trend, and it’s in how it approaches working as a comedy sequel. While the basic concept is similar to the original, Neighbors 2 adds a surprising amount of depth by delving into sexism and gender issues. It’s also just as wickedly funny as its predecessor, making it a rare comedy sequel that actually works.
Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are pregnant with their second child, and their adorable baby daughter is now a toddler. To prepare for their larger family, they’ve bought a new house, and they’re in escrow on their old home. They have 30 days where their buyers could potentially change their minds, which becomes an issue when college freshmen Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), who don’t care for the traditional Greek system’s rules, decide to create an independent sorority – Kappa Nu. Their move creates a bond of sisterhood for the girls, and a nightmare for Mac and Kelly. Their concerns only intensify when the new sisters bring on Teddy (Zac Efron) as their mentor.
Like many comedy sequels, Neighbors 2 contains a number of jokes that feel like they were considered for the original, with some slight tweaking for the new scenario. Considering how strong the jokes were in Neighbors, and how well they work here, that’s not a problem for this film.
That new scenario, though, provides more than a chance to tweak some jokes (verbal or physical). The film repeatedly brings up issues of sexism within the Greek system, from how sororities are not allowed to throw parties to how parties in the Greek system operate on the terms of fraternities (and sexist male actions, more broadly). It creates a far different rivalry than Neighbors provided, where Mac and Kelly were far more clearly in the right than Teddy and his brothers – who were all seniors. These freshmen sisters want to be able to have fun on their terms, which doesn’t seem like that radical of an idea.
Hell, if anything, the girls of Kappa Nu have parties I’d want to attend. Among their party themes: a screening of The Fault in Our Stars, a costume party with feminist icons, and a party celebrating the loss of Shelby’s virginity. In their first encounter with Teddy, they call him and so many fraternities out on their variations on “_____ and Hos” parties, which ends up leaving Teddy reeling in just how much his parties contributed to sexism against women. It’s not just sexist (though it’s definitely sexist) – it’s boring and clichéd.
Teddy, meanwhile, hasn’t grown much since Neighbors – but his frat brothers have. Best friend Pete (Dave Franco) has gone so far as to get engaged to his boyfriend. And in a sign of growth, Pete’s new (to us) out status is treated with joy by his brothers. But Teddy, feeling stuck, just wants to feel valued. That leads to his work with Kappa Nu, and eventually to coming around to helping Mac and Kelly. There’s a warmth to his character that’s almost as intense as his undeniable hotness, both of which make you just want to hug him.
Meanwhile, Mac and Kelly’s relationship continues to serve as a wonderfully brilliant comedic example of marriage. The two clearly love each other, and neither judges the other when it comes to their (occasional lack of) parenting skills. They feel like a real, lived-in couple, with all of their foibles (including Mac’s bong and Kelly’s dildo, frequently popping up in the hands of their daughter). It’s refreshing when you consider how many comedies center around an irresponsible husband and the wife who cleans up after him. Mac and Kelly are both irresponsible, and both capable of creating monstrous laughs for the audience.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is a rare example of a comedy sequel that’s just as funny as its predecessor, while doing something different and far more pointed. It’s a deliberate “fuck you” to sexism (quite literally, in one brilliant moment). That’s gutsy. And brilliant.