Will Schube didn’t need a frat because his softball team was the most popular thing on campus.
I’m worried that I’m starting to like Zac Efron as an actor. Or maybe not as an actor, but as a surprisingly funny dude who performs these funny acts and says funny words on camera for large audiences to see at a later date. He’s really funny in Neighbors, and two years later, remains funny in Neighbors 2. He just acts silly and doofy and it’s great. Aside from Efron, Neighbors 2 has a bunch of scattered laughs and the Rose Byrne/Seth Rogen tandem is charismatic and charming, but it’s hard to really enjoy a movie that’s clearly trying to be nothing more than a not-that-bad sequel to a decent/above-average original.
It’s crazy that a movie with seven (!!) credited writers couldn’t aim a bit higher, especially considering the fact that the original Neighbors is the rare blockbuster that emerges both successful and with its filmic dignity relatively intact.
The movie’s only an hour and a half, which is a nice change of pace from the plodding two hour messes these things generally are. Chloe Grace Moretz—who I had no idea was a famous thing until I walked out of the movie theater and peered into the souls of her seven million Instagram followers—plays a college freshman named Shelby who thinks college frat parties are gross and decides to start her own sorority because normal sororities can’t have parties. This is unfair and this unfairness pushes the plot into its comfort zone. The galvanizing process of Shelby and her friends brings up another weird thing about Neighbors 2: it’s half-baked commitment to pushing feminist platitudes.
Neighbors 2 manages to both empower college girls to fight for the same party rights that boys have all while making gross Bill Cosby jokes. Chloe Moretz serves as a talking head for believing in yourself and being comfortable looking normal, but she doesn’t look normal at all. She looks like a beautiful movie star wearing sweatpants. The film would be a bit more convincing in its ideals if it didn’t tell these girls that they dressed weirdly or looked normal but instead emphasized that deciding to look one way or another is a choice for you and you only. It’s cool that a movie is actively trying to push an alternative viewpoint to traditional big Hollywood, but it’s so half-assed it comes across as a check mark on a diversity sheet the studio made the writing staff go through while plotting out the story.
This whole issue may be a weird thing to harp on when watching and thinking about a movie like Neighbors 2, but we spent 2015 lauding Mad Max for throwing a bunch of Victoria Secret models in the desert and having them sit in silence. If a film is going to hold itself to certain standards, it’s our job to do the same. Neighbors 2 is still a movie carried almost entirely by Seth Rogen and Zac Efron (they’re both men, shhhhhh!).
Anyways, the girls move next door to the happy couple, Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne). What luck! Twice in a row! Their baby daughter is now three or four and constantly plays with her mom’s vibrator. It’s really funny the first few times, but jokes about babies playing with vibrators get kind of weird after the sixth or seventh iteration.
Mac and Kelly try to sell their house and they have a buyer in Richard from Veep, which had me so freaking excited. He’s the funniest character on my favorite TV show, so that was really cool. The house goes into escrow as the sorority moves in next door, and they’re aided by a wandering Efron who’s lost his way after his BFF Dave Franco marries his partner. Dave Franco is now gay.
Efron eventually switches sides and joins the couple, which is great because it’s so much more fun rooting for Efron than rooting against him (this is a thing I didn’t think I’d ever say). Efron has been deemed “old” by the sorority girls via rapid fire text-vote (with likely more responses than the All-Star game MVP), just one more blow to the post-collegiate drifter. Every one of his co-workers at Abercrombie is really young and he can’t even be shirtless anymore.
Shenanigans ensue, Ike Barinholtz is hysterical again, and Hannibal Buress’ bit part produces a few chuckles as well. There’s a really funny scene involving an airbag and a lot of falling, which is mostly funny because I’m still 12 years old and crack up every time someone falls. Mac’s boss—played by another Veep actor, Briank Huskey—falls into a desk and I didn’t stop laughing for five minutes. Kyle Mooney shows up for a second, too, which was fun to see. Oh yeah! Kelsey Grammer also makes an appearance as Shelby’s dad. I spent the following scene wondering what was up in Kelsey Grammer’s life such that he was compelled to be in Neighbors 2 for five minutes.
The sorority eventually makes enough money to rent the house next door, and all is well. Mac and Kelly have a second child, Efron finds a new job as a gay wedding planner, and all those weird girls now have a lot of friends after other sororities realize how much fun it is to be yourself. And the film seems to be really excited that they didn’t even need to dress slutty to prove they were right.
Rating: I’m a little ambivalent about this thing so I don’t care what you do. You’ll laugh a bunch, which is healthy. So see it.