Review: Big laughs, progressive views in ‘Neighbors 2’
Growing up is hard to do, whether you’re a thirtysomething struggling with the adjustment to parenthood, a frat boy graduating to adulthood or a sequel looking to not simply repeat the rhythms of the original.
“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” handles these hardships admirably. The follow-up to 2014’s “Neighbors,” which mixed bawdy comedy with themes of maturity and an elevated social conscience, has more on its mind than simple hijinks. It does suffer from a bit of sequel sluggishness — its characters aren’t as sharply drawn as they were the first time around and its situations are rather same-y — but it’s a worthy follow-up to its predecessor that lands big laughs without always resorting to the lowest common denominator.
In “Neighbors 2,” Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are back as Mac and Kelly Radnor, parents of a young child who are looking to move out of their home to make room for their second baby. The sale of their house is put in jeopardy when a sorority, headed by incoming freshman Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), moves next door and frightens off the new buyers.
Meanwhile, frat legend Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) is struggling with life after his college glory days. His friends have moved on with their lives, and when his best friend, Pete (Dave Franco), gets engaged to his boyfriend, Teddy finds himself without a home and without a purpose.
So Teddy moves back into his old frat house, where he meets Shelby and decides to act as the mentor to her newly formed sorority, which also gives him a chance to exact revenge on the Radnors. But when Teddy’s leadership skills are questioned, he’s booted by the girls and he aligns with the Radnors to try and shut down the sorority.
The storyline is a way to twist and gender flip the events of the first film while keeping the same basic framework. It still works, though Shelby and the rest of her sisters aren’t nearly as developed as Teddy and his pals were the first time around.
What “Neighbors 2” does do is cleverly riff on the new wave of gender politics and the brand of hashtag-feminism that has risen among millennials in recent years. There are open debates about what the new rules are, who makes them and how to abide by them, as well as a playful zing about the concept of “reverse sexism.”
And Efron is particularly effective inhabiting the role of a sad bro facing down a harsh reality. Efron still has teen dream good looks and a chiseled body worthy of a carved statue, but there’s a distance in his eyes that speaks to a well of sadness underneath his frat boy veneer. Now 28, there are questions of where he goes next — beyond next summer’s “Baywatch,” which is currently shooting — and there’s more than a little of Efron’s reality in the Teddy’s soul-searching. Don’t confuse this with an empty performance, there is a realness to Teddy that Efron brings to the surface.
The trick is making it all go down smooth, and director Nicholas Stoller (who also directed “Neighbors”) keeps things oiled and running. He mixes gross-out gags with a progressive agenda — when two male characters get engaged, their buddies surround them and chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” — and makes “Neighbors 2” something worth letting into your neighborhood.
‘Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising’
Rated R for crude sexual content including brief graphic nudity, language throughout, drug use and teen partying
Running time: 92 minutes