Whenever a studio announces a sequel, the same question almost always comes up: “Why?” Ninety percent of the time, the reasons are financial—to try and make more money—rather than there being a good story that desperately needs to be told, and that’s especially the case with sequels to hit comedies. The chances of botching what worked in what was initially conceived as a standalone laugher increases with each successive movie. (There’s no better proof of this than Meet the Parents.)
In the case of Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, a lot has happened in the two years since Neighbors. Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne) are still trying to be good parents to their daughter Stella with another baby on the way. They’ve also finally found a buyer for their house, although that buyer has a month to change their mind. Their old nemesis Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) just wants to feel valued after losing his job and being kicked out of the apartment by his former frat brother Pete (Dave Franco), who in a bizarre twist has come out as gay since we last saw him.
But they’re all reunited when a group of girls, including Chloe Grace Moretz’s Selby, decide to start the sorority Kappa Nu due to being unhappy with the other choices on campus—and the fact that only the frats are allowed to throw their misogynistic parties. Of course, they need a house for this venture, and the one next to Mac and Kelly is vacant.
At a glance, one might think Neighbors 2 merely changes the gender of the neighbors by making it a sorority rather than a fraternity, but there’s a lot more to what makes Neighbors 2 a step-up from the original. By switching the genders, director Nick Stoller and his cast are able to explore and poke fun at gender issues, yet it’s not necessarily a battle of the sexes since it is a war between the very young and the slightly older.
Part of the conflict comes from the sorority trying to raise enough money from their members to pay the rent, mostly by throwing loud parties. Mac and Kelly desperately need to get them to chill out, so that the buyers of their house won’t back out of the deal. Because of this, much of the humor once again comes from the war between the two houses, and we quickly learn that the girls fight just as hard and dirty as the guys.
At the start of the feud, Teddy tries to help the girls set up their sorority—he’s still angry about what happened in the first movie—but when they decide he’s too old for them, they kick him to the curb, and Teddy switches sides. This leads to a lot of funny moments as Mac, Kelly, and Teddy have to find a way to cut off the girls’ money supply from selling pot.
Let’s face it. If you didn’t like the original Neighbors, you probably won’t care for this one either, because it works along the same general lines, and the main cast of Rogen, Efron, and Byrne don’t diverge too far away from what benefitted their characters the first time.
Teddy’s frat brothers from the original film—played by Dave Franco, Jerod Carmichael, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse—take on a much smaller role this time, which is a bit of a shame since they contributed so much added humor to the original movie, helping make it more than the typical Seth Rogen fratboy comedy. Chloe Moretz might not seem like the most likely candidate to fill in that gap based on her previous films, but she actually fits in beautifully, as do her equally oddball sorority sisters that give the film an edgier take on the Barden Bellas from the blander Pitch Perfect franchise.
Stoller continues to prove himself to be a solid comedy director, especially when he creates humor out of stuff that happens in real life. Getting a second crack at this particular premise allows him to improve on some of the problems from the original Neighbors, most notably that it felt long despite being the same slim 90-plus minutes as its sequel. In this case, the laughs are far more consistent with a few scenes that will have you chuckling so hard, they could be considered “side-splitting.”
While the film does delve into gender issues that have been in the social consciousness, it never tries to be preachy about what’s right or wrong behavior for young women. Any father with a young daughter will probably appreciate some of the things addressed by Mac, who realizes that someday his own darling girl might grow up to be one of these crazy co-eds they’re facing off against.
In the end, Neighbors 2 ends up being funnier than the original movie and a near-perfect sequel to boot—making the humor more gender-neutral helps greatly in making this sequel so brilliantly funny.