The miserably titled Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is a sequel in the most classic sense: the key players have all returned, and the setting hasn’t changed. It’s a retread with higher stakes. But even if you were a fan of 2014's surprise hit Neighbors, a follow-up could seem like a hard sell. This couple again? Spatting with college kids again? But Neighbors 2 is a smarter, tighter, and funnier film than its predecessor, with even wider eyes and a bigger heart.
We open in the middle of things—fucking, to be specific. After barfing on her husband Mac (Seth Rogan) while on top of him, Kelly (Rose Byrne) realizes she’s probably pregnant. Cut to a few months later, and they’ve sold their old home after buying a bigger one in the suburbs. Unfortunately, thoughtlessness over the meaning of escrow (one of the film’s many hysterical, quick-fire exchanges) has left them surprised to learn the buyers (played by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and Veep’s Sam Richardson) have 30 days to back out if they discover something undesirable about the property—like the fact that a sorority has just moved in next door.
Yet it’s technically not a sorority at all. After learning how sexist the greek system is (fraternities can have parties, but sororities cannot) and finding their college experience fraught with patriarchal oppression (which, in the film, takes the form of an unstable male RA), a group of three freshman (Kiersey Clemons, Beanie Feldstein, and the painfully miscast Chloë Grace Moretz) decide to pool their money together, rent the house next door to Mac and Kelly, and turn it into a feminist paradise unsanctioned by the school, wherein young women can party with with fellow young women without fearing or being pressured by frat boys. The perpetually partying “sisters” soon find themselves at war with Mac and Kelly, who—through a series of events I won’t dare spoiling here—quickly find a new ally in their former nemesis, Teddy (Zac Efron, in the film’s best and most nuanced performance).
A dimwitted and directionless former Abercrombie & Fitch employee, Teddy is the heart and soul of this movie, and the primary vehicle for its feminist overtones. Sure, the women of Kappa Nu do their part to communicate the rampant sexism in society, but watching Teddy come to terms with his role in perpetuating it—and wanting to make amends for doing so—is what makes Neighbors 2 such a surprising (and oddly touching) follow-up.
Though the word is never uttered, the concept of “wokeness”—that is, people (primarily men) not only being aware of misogyny but expecting to be commended for noticing it—is a primary source of laughter here. Do fraternities bring more harm than good? Is it sexist to bring a sorority down? Is it offensive to be surprised when women throw bloody tampons at your windows? As the war between the youngs and the olds wages on, the film’s male characters confront their histories of sexism. And though their wry observations are occasionally a little too on the nose, they mostly contribute to the film’s nearly constant laughs. (Can I take a second to call out how wonderful Rose Byrne is, by the way? Any line would be funnier if read by her, and no one in the movie has better comedic delivery.)
Though the film features an explicitly feminist message that’s almost unheard of in R-rated studio comedies, however, it’s worth noting that none of its four credited writers are women. This is feminism from the perspective of men, and however woke those men may be, in the days since seeing Neighbors 2 I have found myself wondering what kind of movie this would have been if it had been written by a group of four women instead.
Would it have been more rewarding? Maybe! But Neighbors 2 is good enough—and smart enough—to keep knowledge of an all-male writing team from preventing it from being a worthwhile experience. Whether or not it leads to a Teddy-like transformation in some of its audiences remains to be seen, but I’m certain I haven’t laughed this hard during a movie in a long time.
Image via Universal.