(Lainey: Here are some new photos of Rose Byrne and Chloe Grace Moretz which is great because we haven’t, until now, been able to post Sarah’s review of Neighbors 2.)
I have been very hard on Zac Efron around here, so now I will say something nice—he’s really good in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. For a movie that’s about sexist double standards, it’s the straight white dude who walks away with the most stolen scenes. Efron should only every make movies with Seth Rogen and director Nicholas Stoller, as they are the only people who have managed to make him appear human on screen, and not like a battery-powered Ken doll run amok. Efron and Rogen reunite with Rose Byrne for the sequel to their hit 2014 movie, Neighbors, and they’re joined by a new cast of young women led by Chloe Grace Moretz, who also seems more human and natural here than she has in recent performances. Visually Stoller isn’t doing the most, but his work with actors is really stellar.
Neighbors 2 revisits the premise of Neighbors—Mac and Kelly (Rogen and Byrne, respectively) are a thirty-something couple trying to settle down, but who aren’t really ready to settle down. This time they’re expecting baby #2, and are trying to sell their house and trade up, but their potential sale is threatened when a newly founded sorority moves in next door, replacing the frat house of Neighbors. Like 22 Jump Street this is basically just the same movie again, just with some new faces added for freshness. And it almost works as well as 22 Jump Street does.
Neighbors 2 has political correctness on its mind, and for the most part, it mines decent to really solid humor from it. The opening of the movie revisits the kind of wild, “These are the best years of our lives” party as the first movie, except from a female college freshman’s perspective. Boys leer from every direction, and girls pay a door charge to be degraded and objectified, or worse, by the young men running the party. “It’s super rapey in there!” one girl exclaims upon escape. It’s a great opening, funny and appalling all at once (the comedic ground on which Rogen lives).
Moretz stars as Shelby, a non-joiner who ends up starting her own sorority off campus after Selena Gomez informs her that sororities aren’t allowed to throw parties on campus. Moving in next door to Mac and Kelly results in another prank war between neighbors, but Shelby has some help in the form of Teddy (Efron), the frat-bro nemesis from Neighbors. Now out of college, Teddy is struggling to grow up as his fraternity brothers all move on. So he’s clinging to his glory days by helping Shelby set up her sorority.
Efron gets some of the movie’s biggest laughs—although Rose Byrne still takes the cup for a scene with Lisa Kudrow involving the world’s worst bribery attempt—but he also shows a lot of heart. Teddy wants to grow up, to be “of value” to people, he just doesn’t know how. That he’s so dim he can barely feed himself is part of the problem, but he’s also confronted with the reality that being the cool good-looking guy doesn’t last forever. Teddy’s attempts at growing up are both really funny and genuinely sweet, and Efron is actually watchable.
Not every joke will work for everyone, and as with much of Rogen’s output, there are deliberate buttons being pushed that require a tolerance for nuance. Supposedly liberal characters expose pockets of prejudice through tasteless jokes of their own, and Shelby and her friends scream “Sexist!” so much it loses all meaning. Double standards are ripe for mocking, but Neighbors 2 also shows that progressivism is a constant learning curve of self-improvement, and having characters who are both accepting and clueless taps into something greater than just gross out gags, although there are a few of those, too. That’s what makes Neighbors 2 work. That, and a surprisingly good turn from Zac Efron.