There’s a time in a person’s life when they feel like they lag behind everyone else their own age. More people seem to progress to that next echelon of adulthood with each passing day. Stagnation meets anxiety, which then causes resistance. And a kind of paralysis sets in.
Well, maybe “time” should be plural. The above scenario describes the world in”Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” that greets both Zac Efron’s Teddy Sanders after college and Seth Rogen’s Mac Radner after his wife (Rose Byrne’s Kelly) announces her pregnancy with their second child. Each has made small steps towards some kind of maturity while still feeling like their phoning it in prohibits them from leveling up in life.
If the first “Neighbors” was about finding humor and truth in the irreconcilable differences between fraternity guys and family men, then the sequel pivots to finding heartfelt connections that can be forged between ludicrous antics over shared feelings of inadequacy and ineptitude. More than the pure humor value of the original’s Abercrombie-set epilogue, Teddy and Mac forge a more durable bond here over a shared interest in shutting down the insurgent Kappa Nu sorority that set up next door.
Granted, their motivations are quite different. For the same reasons as the film’s predecessor, Mac needs to ensure the house stays appealing to prospective buyers. Teddy, on the other hand, helps the cause because he needs to feel needed. Originally, he got that appreciation from the sorority sisters, who relied on his expertise to help establish their organization. (Teddy ironically knows more about real estate than the Radnor family, proof that Greek organizations actually do teach at least some valuable life lessons.)
While not quite a student and not quite an adult, Teddy naturally gets caught back in the gravitational pull of the college life; it can be quite alluring to stay in a place where your expertise and skills count for something. Once they turn on him, he feels no shame switching sides. Efron masterfully portrays that confusing moment in time where identifying with adults seems easier than identifying with kids. As it turns out, he shares quite a bit more in common with the Radnors than previously imagined. Their express aim is to ruin the fun of the youth, though latently, envy for their freedom drives such animosity.
The specifics of post-grad assimilation into the so-called “real world” might look quite different than planting one’s flag firmly in the “adult” and “parent” category. But when teetering on the fence between life stages, the importance of age fades away some. It sounds like the kind of deceptively deep philosophical lesson one might impart from a Richard Linklater film. Instead, it’s sandwiched between jokes about Bill Cosby, men’s rights activists and the Holocaust. (Yes, it even goes there.)
“Neighbors 2” is the rare comedic sequel that opts to graduate rather than repeat a grade. Unlike “The Hangover Part II,” which gave a winking nod as it replayed the same scenario in a new location, the second “Neighbors” film uses its original setup as a pretext to explore an entirely different battleground of comedy altogether. Writer/director Nicholas Stoller, along with four other credited scribes, move from a standard clash of cultures to the more fraught territory of campus culture wars. This arena, many comics argue, is more prone to shutting down laughter than providing an opportunity for it.
Instead of just presenting a sorority and drawing on all our cultural connotations of it, “Neighbors 2” actively asks its audience to ask fundamental questions about how the Greek system functions. Beyond mere tradition and convention, why is it that fraternities throw the parties and sororities, prohibited from having their own, simply attend? A group of three demographically diverse freshmen, led by Chloe Grace Moretz’s Shelby, decide to found their own sorority, Kappa Nu, to react against institutionalized misogyny and rape culture.
Their presence and popularity poses difficult conundrums for their opponents. Teddy is confronted with the many ways, from language to party themes, in which he and the Delta Psi brothers perpetuated demeaning and sexist ideas about women. So is it still ok to use the phrase “bros before hoes?” Mac and Kelly, at their core, believe in the core feminist principles that led the girls of Kappa Nu to charter the organization. They have a daughter of their own and probably want her to live in a less gender-biased world. So it still ok to fight tooth and nail to break them apart?
These tough internal debates which tend to illuminate cognitive dissonance are very much of our present time. Finding the friction in those moments where our actions directly counteract stated beliefs can be quite humorous, which then primes us to approach these conflicts with less bitterness. And especially when factoring in the rest of the gut-splitting laughter “Neighbors 2” possesses in spades, this hour and a half at the movies provides a truly irresistible opportunity for self-examination. B+ /