The Curse of the Comedy Sequel?
Repeating the plot and having an eerily similar synopsis are staples of the Comedy Sequel. Whether it be The Hangover, Horrible Bosses, Austin Powers, or Ted, most comedies out there get a sequel that wants to recapture the same feeling the original gave. Most of the time, this results in tired plots that feature the same story (maybe change one element) and even more tired retelling of “running” jokes. Surprisingly, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is a welcome change to the comedy sequel formula.
Yes, the synopsis could be boiled down to “it’s the first movie except with a sorority,” but that would be extremely underselling the movie (funny enough, that is exactly how the studio sold the movie). Maybe there was a mandate to have a sequel to the 2014’s successful comedy. Maybe there was the initial spark of laziness that said “let’s do the first movie except with a sorority.” Despite whatever lead to the sequel’s creation, Director Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek, The Five-Year Engagement), along with a slew of writers, took what could be a lazy retread and instead delivered a just-as-funny sequel with a strong message to deliver regarding gender inequality.
The film continues the story of Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne) as their family is growing and they attempt to sell their house. Enter the brand new sorority Kappa Nu, lead by Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) and filled with other ladies who want to have the first sorority that can party. Teddy (Zac Efron) is a wild card at this point in his life, he doesn’t have a stability like his fellow college graduates, nor is he young enough to fit into the party lifestyle he so desperately wants to be a part of. With the players set up, you can expect where the story goes, the Radner’s have to scheme to take down their partying neighbors so they can resume a normal life. What is not expected, is the strong message the film conveys, giving some striking commentary on our society.
The Power of a Sorority
Two scenes happen early in the film that display some of Sorority Rising’s brilliance. First, with the introduction of Shelby and the sorority she wants to join, it is discovered that sororities are not allowed to party in the current college system. Selena Gomez all but looks at the camera and says, “no really, Google it.” The first seed is planted that this film is going to be more than just Seth Rogen receiving airbag-related injuries. Second, the sorority ladies attend their first fraternity party, and it is a familiar scene. There’s beer pong, loud music, a stripper pole, wet t-shirt contests, and other things you would expect to see. The difference here is that we are seeing it through the eyes of a woman, and it is horrifying.
The movie continues on to deliver a strong message of feminism and equality. Some of you may be thinking, “so the film says ‘feminism’ means girls have the right to party just like the boys?” Sorority Rising actually addresses that idea head on, showing that no, equality is not just girls getting to party like the boys, it is relieving any and all restriction women still have in this country, and part of that is strange double standards in the college system.
The film backs up its surprising societal message in various ways. First, Sorority Rising presents various other progressive ideals and presents them as normal. Whether it be addressing gay marriage or issues related to police brutality (i.e. the Black Lives Matter movement), Sorority Rising presents itself as a socially conscience movie that takes these issues seriously. Secondly, the movie is really funny.
Let’s try not to lose sight of Sorority Rising’s first goal, to be a comedy. Rogen, Byrne, Efron, Grace Moretz (throw in Ike Barinholtz for good measure) all work together tremendously and the script is just really funny. Stoller’s direction adds in some various visual gags to elevate the film above its Apatow-like peers, there is more going on here than just pointing the camera at funny people and watching them say jokes. Whether it be the Radners learning how to be parents, Teddy using pork fat as baby oil, Ike Barinholtz dressed as a terrifying clown, or the return of the infamous airbags, Sorority Rising totally works simply as a comedy.
Even with tons of jokes and some strong societal commentary, Sorority Rising is not without its flaws. The film falls flat mainly in the story department, the simple plot is more just a skeleton to deliver the message and the jokes. Though there are some touching emotional moments, these scenes can sometimes feel forced, begging the audience to feel the emotion the filmmakers want you to feel.
While the plot is somewhat predictable (the big “crisis” in the third act resolves itself in a humorously easy way), Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising’s mediocre story is elevated by the film’s poignant political messaging. I hope this film inspires other filmmakers to take a look at their own potential films. Yes, there may be a mandate to have sequels and retreads of other movies, but that doesn’t mean each film can’t have something to say. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising took what could be a total wash, and instead gave us an extremely funny comedy that delivers a welcome feminist message. Faults and all, this one is worth our time.