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Film Review: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, a worthy sequel

Rare is the comedy sequel that is even good, let alone better than its already good predecessor. But even rarer is the one that actually expands its scope, building on its first installment to get at something bigger. In the first Neighbors, two new parents, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) contend with the antics of a frat house next door-now, with second child on the way, a new sorority has been founded in its its place, and it’s even worse. But what could have been a simple rehashing of the premise gives us so much more: meaning.

To first understand how this is, think about all the potential ways a movie might incorporate a sorority into an R-rated comedy series starring Seth Rogen, and how many of them are so terribly, terribly bad. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, though, has come up with such a good one it’s incredible no one has thought of it before. Sororities, it turns out, are not allowed to throw parties (I checked, this is actually true). Which means they have to go to frats, whose deftly demonstrated creepiness makes the mission clear for rebellious freshman Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Cleons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein): found an independent sorority, where the theme of each party will not appended by “& hos.

Meanwhile, Mac & Kelly have sold their house, but it’s in escrow, meaning the sale will be revoked should the buyers discover Kappa Nu, the sorority that they have suddenly become, uh, neighbors to. But their attempts to get Kappa Nu to not throw any parties until the deal is closed just further aggravates their very real sense that no one will just let them be themselves. And facilitating it all is the couple’s previous nemesis, Teddy (Zac Efron), who, adrift in life, thinks he’s finally found some purpose in returning to his Greek-life organizing past.

Returning director Nicolas Stoller got great mileage in the previous movie by digging under the surface of the two sides of the prank war. Beneath the hard-partying, prank war-leading frat leader Teddy was a fear that the post-graduation world had nothing for him. In Kappa Nu, though, there is a real righteousness behind their rapidly escalating fight for the right to party (sorry) that you can’t help but root for. And that’s a strength on its own, but it’s also a component of the movie’s even bigger value: as you watch three groups of protagonists, you want all of them to win.

In Neighbors 2, there is a kind acceptance that comedy can do so well, but generally seems to forget about in the mainstream world. As Teddy and his frat brothers perform an acoustic rendition of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” while his best friend (Dave Franco) proposes to his boyfriend, it’s sort of a shock to see that none of it played as a joke. It’s actually a really nice moment! And, with Teddy being the oldest person at his crappy retail job, now moving out to make room for his engaged roommate, he could be the lead of a much darker comedy all his own.

But he’s not, and it’s all the better. Neighbors 2 probably isn’t what marketing would classify a “feel-good” comedy, but, the script from, wait for it, Andre J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Stoller, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg unites the three journeys into something that is. Where the new parents and almost-graduates of Neighbors 1 were driven by the fear of losing their old identities, the new adults of Kappa Nu’s challenge everyone to truly see both who they are in the present, and who those people can be.

Oh, and Neighbors 2 is also that other comedy rarity: visually distinct. The kinetic camera cinematographer Brandon Trost has brought everything from Crank: High Voltage that channels the energy in this film about battling college students requires to work. You just know when it’s about to go down, with swooshes, push-ins, and zooms enhancing every moment of humor along the way. And it’s those weird little touches-like how a gag about pledges dressing up as minions becomes a series of cutaways to what seem to be increasingly elaborate recreations of scenes from Minions culminates in a ridiculous payoff-that pushes this way above the comedy pack.

Despite their nominal top billing, Mac and Kelly end up with the least growth by the end of Neighbors 2, but that’s because they’ve learned to enable it for the others, as parents who maybe aren’t as terrible as they’re afraid they are. Teddy straight up says it almost immediately, but it takes a bit for it to set in that he really isn’t trying to relive his glory days, he just wants to be valued, and this is all he can find. And Kappa Nu may just want to share a house and party, but what it means to them is that they’ve built a space where they can really live. These are worthy goals, and thankfully, there’s room in the world for them all. And thankfully also, that there’s room in Neighbors 2.

Article Name
Film Review: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, a worthy sequel
Rare is the comedy sequel that is even good, let alone better than its already good predecessor. But even rarer is the one that actually expands its scope, building on its first installment to get at something bigger.


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