Friday, May 20, 2016
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is a strange coming-of-age Frankenstein of comedy.
Review by Matt CummingsIf 2014's Neighbors made a strong case for comedy of that year, it only lost out to 22 Jump Street due to that production's nearly perfect execution. The same cannot be said for Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, a film that tries (and fails) to advance a feminist plot while wrapping that message in skits which don't quite pay off. Set a few years after the original, thirty-somethings Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) have raised their now toddler daughter - who keeps finding Kelly's vibrator - and are expecting a second. They've made the decision to buy a new home in the suburbs and thus need to sell their existing home. But their 30-day escrow is challenged when a group of teenage girls led by Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) start up a new sorority with the intention of partying away any chance for the Radners to sell their home. Enter the mostly unshirted Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), whose bromance with Pete (Dave Franco) has hit the skids: not only is Pete gay, but is engaged to be married. Seeking new friends in Shelby's Kappa Nu, Teddy and the Radners engage in a new level of neighbor warfare that will see both sides push each other to their limits, while Teddy is forced to reassess his life choices and come to terms with the empty life of a post-grad. From the outset of N2, it's clear that returning director Nicholas Stoller wants to both give us more of what we want and elevate the story to new levels. Central to the surprisingly mature script by a team of writers including Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O'Brien, and Stoller is almost an apology of sorts to N1: Teddy's bro-choices are coming back to haunt him, and women in the new paradigm are done being treated as wiling playdates to eager frat boys. They want to be treated like boys, eat like them, smoke out whenever they want, and generally carry on as if they were raised by wolves. And while I don't mind the message as a current social discussion, I don't want that in my Neighbors universe; it's not that I'm against its merits, I'm just against it here. And yet I totally get the reason why Stoller and team are moving forward. Had one been given a clone of the original, N2 might have been more entertaining, but a clone nevertheless. Had the comedic skits been as hilarious as those in N1, I might be singing a different tune. Instead, there's large parts of this film that don't work and are often exceedingly boring. Perhaps it was Universal's demand for a quick turnaround that's left me wanting more (and better), but the effect is felt in a couple of ways. Bryne's character - who turned in a statement comedic performance in the original - is mostly sidelined to a potty-mouthed mom; she barely registers at points, while Rogan and Efron bro-off once Kappa Nu pulls the plug on Teddy. But, N2 also lacks heart: everyone's going through their motions, with the addition of Moretz offering nothing substantive. She's mostly upset at her upbringing, determined to smoke joints at every waking moment, and compelled to act badly simply because she can. By film's end, that becomes a pretty big plot hole that has an incredibly predictable conclusion. And if I hear another playing of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” in a film this year, I'll probably lose my shit. And yet, N2 isn't a total loss. There's the standard gross-out comedy, but it's Efron's performance which goes down as the film's best. Usually not a great actor, Efron infuses Teddy with a combination of handsome and idiot who is desperate for a new bro, in a world where friendships seem destined to live on SnapChat rather than in the real world. He is immediately a former frat boy out of time and out of touch, and Efron gifts Teddy with a new sense of maturity, all while accepting that his many faults have brought him to this point. That's a lot to say for a film that still enjoys showing off the bikinis, bongs, and seeking new uses for car air bags. It's like watching those 80's coming-of-age films, where our leads suddenly realize they have to grow up or risk dealing with their stunted maturity for the rest of their lives. Teddy isn't quite there, but by film's end he's ready for a change. So too are Rogan and Byrne. In what was a weirdly uncomfortable ending, both realize that their new lives are far removed from their college years, and the tears they shed are almost a farewell to that life. But that's about as good as we get from the duo: they're just not as funny this time around, but not content to mail things in either. They are in many ways worse parents now, admitting to each other in one of the film's best scenes how they've dropped their first kid, left them at home to party, as well as other acts which CPS probably wouldn't appreciate. But when they arrive at the ending - of which there are four distinct ones - we feel like this franchise has played itself out. There wasn't a need to make a follow-up, but in some ways I wish Universal hadn't. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is both filled with much that made the original great but also strangely embarks on a scheme to upend that very same film. But, if you're like Teddy and can turn your brain off for 93 minutes, it's still perfectly-suited entertainment for the season. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is rated R for crude sexual content including brief graphic nudity, language throughout, drug use and teen partying and has a runtime of 93 minutes. Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.