Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising elevates the very idea of a comedy sequel. It rarely repeats gags from the first film, yet achieves at least as many laughs. It develops cherished old characters while introducing us to equally compelling new ones. It takes the premise of Neighbors and flips it on its head in a manner that’s both hilarious and surprising. That Neighbors 2 does all of this while hitting upon what it means to be a millennial feminist in a patriarchal environment – an astonishingly accurate portrait painted by the five middle-aged men who wrote the screenplay – is nothing short of a marvel.
A few years have passed since Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) bested the frat brothers of Delta Psi. They’re pregnant again, their baby has grown into an incorrigible toddler, and they’ve bought a beautiful new house far away from the chaos of university life. But first they must unload the cursed property that was their first home as a married couple, and they have thirty days of escrow to convince the buyers (a delicious cameo by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and Veep’s Sam Richardson) that they’ve made a sensible purchase.
Enter the girls of Kappa Nu, young women who rushed campus sororities only to learn they're expected to wear false eyelashes and four-inch heels to fit into a backward Greek system. More outrageous is the discovery – founded in dismal reality – that sororities aren’t allowed to throw their own parties. If they want to party, sisters are expected to attend bashes at their frat brothers’ houses, super-fun events that exemplify rape culture and include compulsory wet t-shirt contests, roofied punch and literal neon arrows directing women upstairs to put out.
For freshmen Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Dope’s Kiersey Clemons, continuing to kill it) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), this is a point of injustice. They’re going to establish their own sorority off-campus, a home where they can rage the way they want, with no man – father, frat brother, resident advisor or unlucky neighbor – telling them what they’re allowed to do. Naturally, that home is next door to Mac and Kelly, and the world’s most adorable spouses have another real estate fiasco on their hands.
I want to party with the girls of Kappa Nu. Their events include a themed The Fault in Our Stars screening, a Feminist Icon party (featuring Oprah, Madeleine Albright and a bevy of Hillary Clintons), and a sex-positive celebration of the loss of Shelby's virginity. This last makes for a smart contrast to the ancient school of thought espoused by Ike Barinholtz’s Jimmy, when he brags to Mac that he’s having a son - easy! - instead of a daughter - problematic! “When a boy gets laid, it’s awesome. When a girl gets laid, it’s bad.” These Kappa Nu bashes also stand as a refreshing comparison next to the innumerable “[___]s And Hos” parties once held at the house by Delta Psi, a revelation that leaves Teddy (Zac Efron) reeling at the knowledge that every party he ever threw was sexist and reductive. “Don’t call them ‘hos. That’s not cool anymore.”
And what are the Delta Psi bros doing these days? They’re adults now. They have jobs and homes and relationships. One’s invented an app, one’s a cop. Pete (Dave Franco) has just become engaged to his boyfriend (the underseen John Early), because oh yeah, Pete’s come out since the last film, a development celebrated with kindness and joy in Neighbors 2.
That leaves Teddy, always straggling behind in a state of perpetual idleness. He just wants to feel valued, to find a place where he’s appreciated and treated with respect. Whether that’s helping the girls of Kappa Nu form their sorority or switching sides to his former frenemies when he realizes he’s now one of “the old people,” Efron continues to give Teddy a sense of warm humanity. He’s so dumb, and he’s so incomprehensibly hot, and you just want to give him a hug and tell him he’s a worthy human being.
Mac and Kelly’s relationship is still the cornerstone of this world, a marriage of two wonderful screw-ups who are made venerable by their love for each other and loyalty to one another. And Neighbors 2 carries over a neat philosophy from Neighbors, a beautiful lack of judgment when it comes to parenting, one of the most relentlessly judged positions a person can choose to fill. When the realtor arrives in the opening scene of the film, Mac and Kelly are scrambling to hide their unmentionables, Kelly’s dildo and Mac’s bong, and Neighbors 2 offers no censure here. They’re good parents who love their daughter, and love each other, and they’re also completely irresponsible and moderately unhinged. They’re both irresponsible and unhinged, with Byrne and Carla Gallo’s Paula expected to misbehave and make as many poor decisions as the goofball men in their lives. Though Byrne, an outright comedic genius, is given less to do here than in Neighbors, she’s still responsible for some of the biggest laughs, and she only has less screentime because she’s now surrounded by other actresses given perhaps their first chance to be reckless, unwise and ill-behaved.
Kappa Nu is every bit as nasty as Delta Psi, and as Mac and Kelly's adversaries, they’re twice as diabolical. You see, the sisters of Kappa Nu have righteousness on their side. They are fueled by centuries of sexual oppression. Sure, they want to party, but they also want to be heard, and that gives them a virtuous power missing from a fraternity that just needed a place to party. This distinction works on the audience as well as it works on the Radnors. As a mid-30s woman, I had no trouble rooting for Mac and Kelly as they battled an inconsiderate and noisy fraternity. As a mid-30s woman, I’ll be damned if I’m going to tell the sisters of Kappa Nu that they need to keep it down.
The story and performances are so good in Neighbors 2 that it’s easy to forget there are other successful elements at play here. Director Nicholas Stoller keeps it trim at a brisk ninety minutes, and the action includes a weed caper befitting an Ocean’s 11 joint. The editing is bracing but coherent, and the jokes are so unremitting, so full to capacity, that they don’t leave you any time to breathe, much less hear the next punchline.
But Neighbors 2's best quality is the optimism it has for young feminists dealing with systemic sexism. It's hard not to love a movie that has Seth Rogen replying "No, fuck you." to a "Men's Rights!" high-five, but Neighbors 2 isn't about his growth, or even Kelly's. They're adults, and they're pretty much sorted now. The characters who grow and learn and become mighty forces of change in this movie are three stoned, 18-year-old sorority sisters. That's pretty cool.