Overview: With 30 days until the sale of their house closes, young parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) must fight to keep the sorority next door under control until their move-out date. Universal Pictures; 2016; Rated R; 92 minutes.
Same story, new perspective: Neighbors 2 pretty much retells the same story as Neighbors, which I liked a lot, but this time the focus is on a group of young women, and that one simple change makes the tale feel new, important, and fresh. (A note to Hollywood executives: Changing perspectives means you can often reuse old plots and still find all kinds of new magic!) The film revolves around the fact that U.S. sorority chapters are banned from throwing parties in their own houses. (This is completely true, by the way. Sororities are not allowed to drink alcohol in their houses. It’s wild.) Unhappy with the unfair double standards, first years Shelby, Beth, and Nora set out to create their own sorority. They buy the old frat house beside Mac and Kelly’s house, and the rest is history.
The truth of the situation: What I love about Neighbors 2 is its honesty about exactly how shitty the party situation can be for women in college. I recently graduated from a major university and I can confirm that, yep, fraternity parties are almost always just as creepy, sketchy, and downright sexist as the film portrays. It’s interesting that Neighbors 2 is so quick to paint fraternities as deeply problematic institutions when Neighbors took such care to subvert such stereotypes. Perhaps both films together represent the troubling yet hopeful reality: Yes, frats are often dens of misogyny, entitlement, and groupthink, but the young men in these frats are also complex, deeply feeling people who are held hostage in their own way by a powerful and harmful system. But I digress.
The strengths: Neighbors 2 is strongest when it sticks with its underlying theme of female empowerment. By the final scenes, Mac and Kelly’s struggle to sell their house is all but irrelevant. The unity, friendship, and togetherness of the sorority sisters next door has transcended whatever recycled plot we were dealing with. I couldn’t get through this review without also mentioning Teddy, played by the delightful Zac Efron, because he remains as compelling and adorable as he was in Neighbors. He’s nuanced and complicated in a way that frat bro characters so rarely are on screen, and I could never tire of seeing him do a half-naked, oiled up striptease in one scene and burst into sentimental tears in the next. Give me ten more films starring Efron as Teddy. I’d watch ‘em all. I realize I haven’t even mentioned the comedic punch this film packs. That’s not because it isn’t funny, but because there are more important things to talk about. Neighbors 2 is funny. It’s not groundbreaking; some gags don’t land. But for the most part, it’s funny in a clever, yet sophomoric way. It’s a Seth Rogen movie, people. On some level, you know what you’re getting into.
Overall: Is Neighbors 2 a strictly necessary film? Did this story need to be told? Maybe not, but there sure is a lot to be said for a major studio film starring A-list celebrities that tackles young women’s struggles without fear and lets them deliver the punch lines instead of being them.