REVIEW: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

18 05 2016

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.)

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REVIEW: Neighbors

12 08 2014

If you’re Zac Efron, how do you get people to take you seriously as an actor?  See you as something more than a Disney Channel star without feeling yourself with a foam finger half-naked on television?  Treat you as something more than a Google Images search?

Taking a page from the Channing Tatum/”21 Jump Street” playbook, Efron took on a role in “Neighbors,” a comedy where his entire archetype of the ultra-macho pretty-boy is a consistent butt of jokes.  The arrangement works out well for everyone.  Those who choose to watch the movie will enjoy the self-parody of Efron’s relentless shirtlessness and his over-the-top portrayal of a self-deluded frat lord.  And those fans who just want another look at Efron’s chiseled figure are indulged in the process.

Initially, Efron didn’t seem to be meshing with his character, Delta Psi Beta president Teddy Sanders.  Perhaps I was expecting him to fit a certain model of the fraternity meathead that I knew, but it’s clear that “Neighbors” knows what it’s doing with him.  There’s pretty consistent and purposeful fetishization of Efron throughout the film, by Seth Rogen’s older and squarer Mac as well as within his own fraternity.  The desire for a firm bond with him is laced with some homoerotic undertones and really provides some interesting commentary on the kind of brotherhood fostered within fraternities.

Teddy’s relationship with Dave Franco’s Pete Regazolli, another high-ranking Delta Psi officer out to preserve his legacy, provides ample hilarious opportunities to analyze the implications of the bromance.  One particular exchange of rhyming affirmations of their friendship, which sounds like something potty-mouthed teenaged girls would exchange in gym, sounds so preposterous that it’s clear “Neighbors” does not intend for its portrayal of fraternity life to be taken at face value like “Animal House.”

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