Film Review: ‘Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising’

Zac Efron's faded fratboy lends unexpected poignancy to this raucous, unexpectedly of-the-moment comedy sequel.

Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ike Barinholtz, Kiersey Clemons, Beanie Feldstein, Carla Gallo, Dave Franco, Liz Cackowski, Billy Eichner, Selena Gomez, Kelsey Grammer, Lisa Kudrow, Sam Richardson, Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Hannibal Buress, Brian Husky, Awkwafina, Elise Vargas, Zoey Vargas.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4438848/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Considering it’s another trouble-in-suburbia comedy of modest proportions, boasting no innovations in form or technique, it may seem odd to say that “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” couldn’t — or at least wouldn’t — have been made a mere decade ago. Yet a distinctly current engagement with identity politics colors and complicates Nicholas Stoller’s rampantly rude, rowdy sequel to 2014’s squares-vs.-students farce: With sly sorority girls having replaced lunkheaded fratboys as the collective nemesis of Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne’s harried, hip-no-more homeowners, the film has a knowingly conflicted engagement with millennial-generation feminism that freshens its outlook even as it unevenly rejigs many of its predecessor’s gags. Still, while a subtly clawed Chloë Grace Moretz proves a worthy new foil, it’s Zac Efron’s tragicomic anatomy of a dudebro that remains this series’ sharpest asset.

Though its ribald antics (not to mention Efron’s copious and formidable shirtlessness) drew a sizable younger demographic, the original “Neighbors” was fundamentally a film steeped in thirtysomething ennui: Its warmest, wiliest comedy captured the deflating self-recognition of those comfortably too young for middle age, yet emphatically too old to be down with the kids. That sneaky sense of generational limbo also sits at the heart of this slightly less-cuddly sequel, though its hapless victim has changed. While middle-class marrieds Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) have settled contentedly into early parenthood, former college fraternity leader Teddy (Efron) is struggling to find his place in the world — even his low-ambition retail job at Abercrombie & Fitch has turned on him, demanding that the still-ripped underachiever now wear a shirt to work. What else can Teddy offer the world, if not his abs?

More mortifyingly still, Teddy’s former Delta Psi brothers all appear to have grown up faster than he has. With his best friend and roommate Pete (Dave Franco) newly engaged to be married — to another ex-fratboy, in a socially progressive twist the film happily handles in wholly snicker-free fashion — Teddy finds himself lacking not just a raison d’être, but a roof over his head. Unlikely sanctuary emerges at the very site of his glory days, now home to Kappa Nu, a fledgling “house of united women” founded by snarky, weed-smoking outlier Shelby (Moretz) as an alternative to the no-drugs/no-gluten/no-fun doctrine enforced by a cameoing Selena Gomez’s prissy sorority leader. Outraged by the sexist double standards of typical college-dorm culture, Shelby enlists Teddy’s hedonistic expertise to help prove that sorority girls can party just as hard as fratboys, and on their own terms.

Kappa Nu’s feminist rebellion may hew closer to the “Spring Breakers” playbook than to the suffragette one, though the women do succeed in making Teddy reassess the “bros before hoes” code. (The term “hoes,” he repeats as if imparting revelatory wisdom, is “not cool.”) Notionally empowering as Kappu Nu’s remix of Cyndi Lauper’s “girls just wanna have fun” directive may be, it’s very bad news indeed for on-the-move neighbors Mac and Kelly, whose plans to swiftly sell their house are scuppered by the raucous activity next door. The setup may be different from the first film, then, but the upshot is the same, as much of the running time is given over to a prankish war of wills between young adults and their elders — who find that smart sorority girls make far feistier enemies than jocks of Teddy’s ilk.

The film’s cheerfully scattershot script (by returning “Neighbors” scribes Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, with added input this time from Rogen, Stoller and Evan Goldberg) is most interesting in the ambivalence of its sympathies. Shelby’s sisterhood validly calls out mainstream society’s sanitized female ideals, yet also exploits social justice to coldly antisocial effect; Mac and Kelly, meanwhile, have their share of liberal blind spots, exposed in a handful of blunt, deliberately grimace-inducing gags that skate the boundaries of racism and anti-Semitism. Some viewers will chuckle sheepishly as Orthodox Jews are blithely burlesqued, while others may take a stonier stance. In a film that finds its own characters debating the limits and applications of political correctness — “There’s no such thing as reverse sexism, Mr. White Man,” a woman tells Mac — a degree of contentiousness seems intended.

That no one has an entirely solid leg to stand on in this particular dispute is what keeps the narrative salty, even as it wobbles in the midsection with a couple of strained high-farce set pieces. A labored series of text-message miscommunications builds to a rather muted punchline, while a frenetically paced marijuana heist (extending Rogen’s ongoing commitment to pro-cannabis comedy) is more breathless than hilarious — notwithstanding the sight of Rogen’s quivering belly painted with the Sharpie-thick stomach muscles of a Ninja Turtle.

“Neighbors 2” is often funniest in its incidental observations of social embarrassment and ineptitude: The delightful Rose Byrne, now an established secret weapon in studio comedy, scores the film’s purest laugh with a botched bribery of college dean Lisa Kudrow (granted just one scene — always a dozen too few where Kudrow is concerned) more exquisitely excruciating than most of its more elaborate gross-out gambits. (Not that an introductory scene of mid-coital morning sickness will be easily wiped from the brain.) Despite its high-concept absurdity, “Neighbors 2” remains a character comedy at heart, scrutinizing its characters’ pile-up of errors with empathy if not total forgiveness.

So it’s a neat trick that its most vacant figure has somehow become its most touching: Efron, a gifted comic performer who has learned to wield his unblemished physical beauty as a kind of punchline, plays dumb with deadpan elegance (“There’s no ‘I’ in sorority,” he enthuses, with perfect conviction), but also a hint of echoing desperation. Perhaps, after all its provocative muddling of identity politics, this messy but lively sequel does come down on the side of the handsome straight white male — but if so, it’s a pity vote at best.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising'

Reviewed at NBCUniversal screening room, London, May 3, 2015. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 92 MIN.

Production: A Universal Pictures presentation, in association with Perfect World Pictures, of a Point Grey/Good Universe production. Produced by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, James Weaver. Executive producers, Nathan Kahane, Joe Drake, Ted Gidlow, Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O'Brien. Co-producers, Erin Westerman, Josh Fagen, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir.

Crew: Directed by Nicholas Stoller. Screenplay, Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O'Brien, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, Stoller, based on characters created by Cohen, O'Brien. Camera (color, widescreen), Brandon Trost; editors, Zene Baker, Michael A. Webber, Peck Prior; music, Michael Andrews; music supervisors, Manish Raval, Tom Wolfe; production designer, Theresa Guleserian; set decorator, Ryan Watson; costume designer, Leesa Evans; sound (Dolby Digital), Aron Siegel; supervising sound editor, Michael Babcock; re-recording mixers, Tony Lamberti, Babcock; visual effects supervisor, Paul Linden; visual effects, Crafty Apes; stunt coordinator, J.J. Dashnaw; assistant director, Michael J. Moore; casting, Francine Maisler.

With: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ike Barinholtz, Kiersey Clemons, Beanie Feldstein, Carla Gallo, Dave Franco, Liz Cackowski, Billy Eichner, Selena Gomez, Kelsey Grammer, Lisa Kudrow, Sam Richardson, Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Hannibal Buress, Brian Husky, Awkwafina, Elise Vargas, Zoey Vargas.

More Film

  • on day 3 of the London

    Barbara Broccoli, Richard Curtis Team With Passion Pictures, HTYT Films on Paralympics Documentary

    Oscar-Winning British production company Passion Pictures is teaming up with James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli and filmmaker Richard Curtis on a new feature documentary about the Paralympic Games. The project, currently titled “Harder Than You Think” brings together Passion’s John Battsek with producer Greg Nugent of HTYT Films, with Broccoli and Curtis both serving as [...]

  • Tribeca Film Insitute's PitchNY Program Now

    Tribeca Film Institute's Fourth Annual PitchNY Program Kicks Off (EXCLUSIVE)

    College students and recent alumni in New York can apply to Tribeca Film Institute’s 4th annual PitchNY program, an effort to help young, diverse directors, producers and writers fine-tune their pitching skills, as well as to connect them with entertainment industry professionals who will serve as mentors. On Thursday, Tribeca Film Institute announced that applications [...]

  • La-camarista

    ‘The Chambermaid’ Cleans Up in the U.S.

    SANTIAGO, Chile — Call it the “Roma” effect but Mexican newcomer Lila Aviles’ engaging portrait of a hotel servant, “The Chambermaid” (“La Camarista”) has found outstanding reception in the U.S. and in multiple territories, giving hope to other arthouse films from Latin America and elsewhere that seek distribution in “fortress America.” “‘Roma’ was a beautiful, brawny and [...]

  • Beograd 20.03.2012 Milutin Petrovic, reditelj, scenarista,

    Lost Script by ABC Studios Editor Turned Into Movie and Series 'Bad Blood'

    An ambitious new Serbian feature film and 10-part television series set in the Ottoman Empire of the 19th century has emerged from a long lost script by a former editor at ABC Studios in New York City. Belgrade-based This and That Productions is producing “Bad Blood,” based on the works of renowned Serbian writer Borisav [...]

  • Gael Garcia Bernal on the Power,

    Gael Garcia Bernal on the Power, Responsibility of Cinema to ‘Provoke’

    Gael García Bernal said acting for the likes of Oscar winners Alejandro González Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón helped groom him for the director’s chair and praised cinema as “the only medium” that allows artists to “explore the gray areas” in unparalleled ways. “The world is so full of certainties now, and cinema is the one that [...]

  • Gareth Jones

    Samuel Goldwyn Films Takes North American Rights to Berlin Competition Title 'Mr Jones'

    Samuel Goldwyn Films has taken North American rights on Agnieska Holland’s “Mr. Jones,” it announced Thursday. The period thriller debuted in competition at the Berlin Film Festival in February. Set on the eve of the Second World War, “Mr. Jones” stars James Norton as the eponymous character, an ambitious young journalist who travels to Moscow [...]

  • Live Action Mulan

    China Uses Disney's 'Mulan' to Attack Hong Kong Protests

    Although Twitter and Facebook have taken steps to stop what they say is a Chinese state-backed misinformation campaign about the anti-government protests in Hong Kong, similar content from suspicious accounts continues to proliferate widely, some of it co-opting Disney‘s new “Mulan“ to try to discredit the demonstrators. At the same time, China‘s government-controlled media are [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content