‘Neighbors 2’ Proves That A Comedy Sequel Doesn’t Need to Suck (FILM REVIEW)

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The comedy sequel is one of the trickiest endeavors of movie making a filmmaker can embark on. History has proven time and time again that one successful comedic outing doesn’t mean a second is worth taking. Ace Ventura, Anchorman, Home Alone, Zoolander; all wildly successful and hilarious comedies that took a risk with a double-dip, only to come up short the second time around. Skepticism isn’t just valid, then, when approaching the sequel to a successful comedy. It’s almost a prerequisite.

Which is why I didn’t hold my breath as I sat waiting for the screening of Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising to begin. Narratively speaking, there didn’t seem to be much ground this Seth Rogen and Zac Efron starring sequel could cover that wasn’t already covered well by 2014’s Neighbors. The foul stench of the cash grab seemed to emanate off the movie, portending an endless series of hackneyed rehashing that besets the vast majority of comedy sequels. I expected to find myself helplessly rolling my eyes and letting out a series of bemused, disinterested sighs throughout the screening; I thought that, if nothing else, at least I’d get to write scathing takedown.

Color me shocked, however. Neighbors 2 is the rarest of gems among the world of the comedy sequel—at the very least, it’s every bit as hilarious as its progenitor. In fact, it’s arguably even funnier.

The movie finds Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Rose Byrne) once again facing the property value destroying presence of a group of raucous college kids living next door. Though Teddy Sanders (Efron) and his Delta Psi brothers have long since abandoned the house next door, a new gang of party throwing miscreants, in the form of the newly formed Kappa Nu, led by the young Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), have moved in next door. Their home in escrow, the Radners once again find themselves in a war of escalating tensions with the young party lovers, lest their buyers back out of the deal.

It’s an admittedly absurd premise that, like most comedy sequels, relies on a rehashing of what made the previous movie successful. I won’t deny that Neighbors 2 does, in fact, tread on dangerous waters here; there are times when the movie nearly teeters over the edge to become naught but a pale imitation of its predecessor.

Where Neighbors 2 finds its success, however, is in its characters. Rogen has largely mastered the art of the everyman; it’s so easy to look at him and see yourself, regardless of your station in life or where you’re at in your development as an adult. In all his roles, he’s at once the hapless loser coasting through existence and the well-developed responsible adult with their shit together. Here, we see him slightly more developed than where we last left him at the end of Neighbors. He’s well into the next stage of his life, and he drags the movie, and the rest of its cast, with him.

Efron, then, serves to counterbalance this motif; he’s more or less the same, directionless loser he was we when last left him. Only now, his friends and peers are leaving him behind. While he wallows in the mediocrity of his failed starts, his friends have gotten jobs, are getting married, and have largely settled down. He’s a man on the verge of becoming his true self, but his obsession with the fun of his youth has hindered any real development.

In this way, Neighbors 2 plays out as an homage to the perils of growing up after reaching adulthood. Whereas the first movie relied on Efron’s fear of becoming like Rogen for its comedic well-source, this one relies on Efron’s fear of failing to become like Rogen. In a certain sense, Rogen plays the role of the mystic shaman, guiding the new generations towards their full potential whether they want to or not.

While the movie flirts with the idea of pitting the two against each other once more—which might have worked again, despite itself; they did play well as foils in Neighbors—Teddy and Mac quickly form an alliance against the sisters of Kappa Nu, albeit for different reasons. Here, Rogen and Efron become the perfect unlikely comedic team. Their chemistry is remarkable, and often the two play off each other with the effortless breeze of two long term improv partners on a familiar stage.

The girls, meanwhile, represent the abandon of youth; while their antics never quite reach the ridiculous heights of their counterparts in Delta Psi from the first movie, they’re used to great effect in the film to address larger issues of both the battles between the generations and the battles of the sexes. Their entire raison d’etre here is a condemnation of the Greek system that disallows sororities from throwing their own parties. Unwilling to partake in a system that propagates a culture of blatant sexism and objectification, the girls strike out on their own to form an unofficial sorority to buck the system.

They’re far less petulant as foils than Efron and Delta Psi were in Neighbors, and it’s hard not to root for them in their quest for emancipation, even if that entails some serious existential soul-searching on their behalf. In the end, however, it serves only to further the themes of both the Neighbors movies—growing up.

That’s what makes Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, like Neighbors before it, ultimately so enjoyable. These aren’t movies about parties for party’s sake or about lovable outcasts thumbing their noses at the system. These are movies about the path one journeys on the way to fully functional adulthood. The excitement of initial freedoms, the angst of mid-20’s, and the comforted contentment of mid-30’s living are all present here, and we see the line from one stage to the next clearly, concisely.

By knowing what’s at the heart of their narratives, the Neighbors movies are allowed to have heart. This alone is a rarity in today’s comedic climate, and the fact that they’ve achieved this now twice is rarer still. If he hasn’t already, Rogen has proven himself to be the modern king of comedy, and Neighbors 2 serves only to further clinch his glorious reign.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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