by Michael B. Hock
Neighbors was a pretty good comedy. There was nothing really spectacular about it, when I originally saw it I thought it fell apart a little bit at the end, but for the most part it was pretty amusing: Seth Rogen as a dad vs. Zac Efron as Zac Efron, fighting over property, partying, and what it means to get old. There was some commentary over the battle of the generations, basically what you get now in a lot of “Millennials, amirite?” stories that pop up whenever there’s a slow news day or a company needs to hide horrible labor violations. But basically it was a fun “I don’t get along with my neighbor” comedy that you can see in any sitcom, cartoon, or one of those “hey the neighbor is missing” daytime re-enactment shows.
So let me start out this review by saying: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising has no business being as good as it is. It surpasses the original in every way.
Neighbors 2 picks up several years after the first one left off with Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne, the busiest woman in Hollywood, apparently.) expecting a brand new child and getting ready to sell their house. While in escrow (which makes for some funnier jokes in the movie than it should) they’re tasked with keeping things normal long enough to not spook the potential buyers. Naturally, a sorority run by Shelby (Chloe Grace Mortez, who should be working more, especially in comedy) moves in next door, with the help of Teddy (Efron) who’s apparently still bitter about the incident a few years ago. (again, he gets some great lines.) Hijinks ensue.
One of the smartest things this movie does is copy much of the generational comedy of the first movie in with some interesting social commentary that never feels too heavy or taking a side, if anything, most of the characters are confused as the rest of us about what’s “right” these days.
Let’s start with Efron’s character, Teddy. His character was the alpha dog in the previous movie, and here he is presented as a man who’s stuck in the past. Constantly wearing torn fraternity t-shirts, he has the same job as he did at the end of the last movie, he’s kicked out of his apartment when he roommate (Dave Franco) gets engaged to his boyfriend (in a moment that is extremely romantic). He’s aimless. He initially teams up with Shelby and her sorority, hoping to recapture his glory days, but finds that he has to move on. It helps that Efron plays him with a type of the type of Zac Efron-esque charm that makes you empathize with his entire arc. Yes, it would be easy to play him over the top, but… you can relate to him because we’ve all been there, up to our knees water of adulthood but not quite ready to get our bathing suits wet. His arc is almost played like a drama in the midst of a comedy.
One of my favorite scenes involves Teddy, sitting in the backyard of Mac and Kelly. He’s wearing his old, torn-up shirt while Mac is wearing a new shirt with a picture from his daughter. It’s an interesting moment in the film, one that’s probably highlighted a lot but I have to again, because it sort of juxtaposes those characters in an interesting way, and gives the impression that Teddy is going to be ok.
Of course, you can’t forget to talk about the Sorority in Sorority Rising. Here they’re played as women that want to escape being told what to do without ever getting over the top. (Well… one girl goes a little over the top, but its more played for laughs.) Tired of not being able to throw parties, which the film reminds us is a real rule, being yelled at in their dorms, and generally just fed up, they move out and start their own sorority. Mac and Kelly never have that bonding moment with them that they tried in the first movie, just wanting to get out, so the relationship seems a little more antagonistic which is fine. Most of the social commentary comes not just in the age dispute, but with these women being fed up with being told what to do. Again, it never comes across as too preachy, mostly with the way Grace plays her character of Shelby: wanting to be independent but being stuck at that age when no one really wants to listen to you. Also being stuck in a system that tries to hard, sometimes, to keep them down. The early scenes with the fraternity parties and the sorority introduction really get you on her side early on. The later scenes when she’s locking Teddy and Mac in the garage really get you on their side, though. That’s one of the great things about the movie.
This is, simply put, a great movie, and a surprise, to be honest with you. I’m a big Seth Rogen fan. I’ve never seen a movie where he doesn’t at least try to improve it. The movie may be awful (Green Hornet, I’m looking at you) but he tries to be entertaining. And as mentioned, while I enjoyed Neighbors, I never thought it needed a sequel, especially one that seemingly replaced a fraternity with a sorority. But the did what great sequels need to do: take the original idea and expand on it. Mac and Kelly aren’t better parents… they spend most of the movie acknowledging that, but they don’t dwell like the first movie. Teddy is the same, and has to grow. Shelby isn’t a Teddy Clone, she’s a woman with her own problems and her own reasons for wanting this to work.
I can’t say it any better than: see this movie. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.