Watching the trailers for Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising – which looks “raucous” – you’d probably never expect the film to be some sort of surprise cultural landmark for a) comedy sequels in general and b) the greater social good of society. I honestly can’t believe I just wrote that last sentence. I honestly can’t believe Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising exists in this fashion, as something that’s “good for the world.” I expected some laughs. I laughed a lot during the first movie. But this movie is a comedy with something to say.
(Are there such things as Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising spoilers? If so, I guess this is your sort of warning. I’m going to discuss some things that happen at the beginning of the movie that drives the plot.)
A major character from the first film, Pete (Dave Franco), is gay. We didn’t know that during the events of the first film, but it’s revealed to us early on in this sequel when his fiancé proposes to him during a poker game. It’s actually a nice, sweet scene. Automatically, my “cringe sensor” (for lack of a better term) kicked in, waiting for some tired and dumb “gay panic” type jokes, but they never came. But just as important, it also drives the plot. Now that Pete’s fiancé is moving in, that means Teddy (Zac Efron) – whose post-college career is fledgling — he works retail at some sort of clothing store — now has to find a new place to live.
Here’s another interesting and welcome aspect to this movie I wasn’t expecting: Feminism. Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a freshman in college who rejects the fraternity meatheads who throw all the parties on campus. She wants independence. She wants to throw and attend parties that don’t have to conform to what the “frat boys” want. Teaming with her two friends Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), they decide to start their own sorority in which their ideals can be recognized. In the first film, what the guys wanted was dumb. In this movie, what the girls want is noble. And this makes the story so much more complicated and compelling.
Long story short, Teddy needs a place to live and the women need someone who knows how to start a college Greek organization. But then Shelby and company soon tire of listening to what Teddy has to say, so they dump him, too.
(An entire essay could probably be written about the age differences in this film. In the first film, Teddy and Seth Rogen’s Mac didn’t seem that different. They bonded over Batman, at least at first. When Teddy is trying to communicate with Shelby, Teddy seems about 120 years old.)
While all this is going on, Mac and Kelly (Rose Byrne) still live next door to the old Delta Psi Beta fraternity, which is now being transformed into the Kappa Kappu Nu sorority. They have a 30-day escrow on their home and try to make a deal with the sorority to just not throw any parties until the 30 days are up. Shelby’s point is the whole reason they live there is so they don’t have to listen to what men have to say about what parties they throw. This is a valid point!
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is going to surprise a lot of people who just think it’s going to be a “dumb sequel.” Again, the trailers are kind of pushing that notion, which I’m positive is by design. Yet, here it is: the progressive, raunchy comedy we’ve all been waiting for. I mean…. Jerrod Carmichael’s character is now a cop and he’s partnered with an intense Training Day-type cop, played by Hannibal Buress – this movie takes the time to address the Black Lives Matter movement.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising reminded me a little bit of Gremlins 2, in that it’s almost a meta statement on itself. The movie itself is not meta like Gremlins 2, but it’s very self-aware of its 2016 audience. And this whole movie is almost a statement about the jokes they made two years ago that they couldn’t possibly make now. But not a gross Dirty Grandpa, “the world is too politically correct so I’m going to say something offensive” type way. The people who wrote this movie are way too smart for that. (It is kind of crazy that Zac Efron is in both the most offensive comedy of the year and, here, the smartest and most progressive.)
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising still has a fun raunchiness to it, but it’s very aware of what year this is and fits right into today’s social climate – and it’s better off for doing so. In a world in which so many comedy sequels fail, here comes a comedy sequel that isn’t just “as good as the first movie,” it’s even better. And, honestly, I can’t think of a better comedy sequel. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising may just be the best.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.