In Review!: “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”

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As much as the first Neighbors examined reinforced broski attitudes and behaviors long accepted by American culture, its sequel Sorority Rising explores feminism through the new generation.

Which is to say: not as deeply as it could. The progressive mindset behind the film is more of a framework for the plot than an agenda to be pushed, for the laughs are always the main focus (and they rarely let up). The new focus gives the film an edge that is almost necessary to follow up a film that didn’t beg to be sequelized, and keeps the antics from being too much of a tired rehash even though the whole structure have been lifted from the original. It’s admirable to see a male-focused comedy team contemplate these themes, even if it doesn’t dig as deep as the opportunities presented. For example, why present a toddler girl’s love of the word “no” within moments of a frathouse sign reading “no means yes” without mining the defiant “no” for its inherent power?

Chloë Grace Moretz is the Zac Efron stand-in here, but oddly Efron is the stand-in for Seth Rogen, as the older couple takes somewhat of a disappointing back seat in this installment. Efron’s Teddy is still on the journey of growing up, as his frat brothers have all progressed onto larger ambitions while Teddy bemoans having to wear a shirt to the menial job he still holds at Abercrombie and Fitch. While Moretz and her new friends (Kiersey Clemons and Beanie Feldstein) begin their own sorority to buck the chauvinist traditions in both male and female Greek life, Teddy helps them establish themselves to help preserve his manchild lifestyle.

Next door, Rogen and Byrne’s Radners are expanding their family and hoping to sell their house to move to the suburbs. Their escrow selling arrangements are threatened by the arrival of Moretz’s clan, and you can imagine where it goes from here. Ike Barinholts and Carla Gallo (unfortunately, the original’s weakest element) also return as the Radner’s grotesque friends, and allotted screentime you wish could be spent on the always welcome charms of Byrne and Rogen. There’s a sweetness missing in this one that the original had in full supply, and that’s probably due to the lack of space granted to the married couple caught in the cross hairs. At least Byrne still gets to save the day with her hilarious and plainspoken honesty.

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The topical new approach defies the potential paint-by-numbers that this sequel could have been, and is another great showcase for the underrated Efron. If Rising doesn’t match the highs of the first film, it does succeed by keeping the laughs relentless and the character insights natural and sincere. It’s a solid summer sequel that satisfies even as it leaves you wishing for a little more.

B

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