The marketing campaign for Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising seems to hint that the sequel to 2014’s Neighbors is a Girls-Gone-Wild version of the original. One poster shows a red thong flung over a picket fence, and the trailer features plenty of co-eds in bikinis. But bros, take heed: There’s nary a tit in Sorority Rising, a hilariously raunchy reboot that gives new meaning to the phrase “stick it to the man.”
In Neighbors, two new parents have to contend with the frat house next door. The Neighbors 2 writing team (Neighbors writers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, plus Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and director Nicholas Stoller) wastes little time setting up the sequel’s rather convenient premise: Mac (Seth Rogen) and a newly pregnant Kelly (Rose Byrne) have sold their house and bought a new one in the suburbs. But they’re in escrow, which means the new buyers (Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and Veep‘s Sam Richardson) have 30 days to inspect the house before the deal is final. And they have a whole new set of neighbors to deal with when a new sorority moves in next door.
Kappa Nu is the anti-sorority, a response to the antiquated rules that forbid sororities from hosting parties. (“Google it,” the Phi Lambda president, played briefly by Selena Gomez, says.) Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) bonds with Beth (Dope’s Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Jonah Hill’s very funny little sister, Beanie Feldstein) when the three girls ditch a frat party because, as Beth says, “It was super rape-y in there.” When the R.A. (Kyle Mooney) busts them for smoking pot in their dorm room, they decide they’ve had enough of guys telling them when, where, and how to party. “We’re starting our own sorority outside the system,” Shelby declares.
Sorority Rising revs the engine early on its feminist message and doesn’t slow down. Teddy (a terrific Zac Efron) teams up with the girls after they point out how sexist frat parties are; he gives them helpful tips, like how many “buckets” of money they need to fill each month in order to make rent. The girls host a “feminist icon party” (Beth, as Oprah, instructs the partygoers to look under their chairs, where beer awaits), and we see far more of Efron’s body than any of the female leads’.
The film also has an appealingly casual gay-friendly vibe; we find out that Teddy’s best friend Pete (Dave Franco) is gay, and when his boyfriend (Johnny Pemberton) proposes in front of their friends, the dudes cheer them on, yelling, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” There’s a crack about Garf (Jerrod Carmichael) having been “bicurious” in college; he shrugs, “Sometimes you have to suck a dick to realize you don’t like sucking dicks.”
But Sorority Rising is not a public service announcement; it’s a comedy, and its politically correct messages are all the more powerful because they don’t distract from the laughs, but add to them. When the girls throw blood-soaked tampons at Mac and Kelly’s house, Teddy tells them they’ve gone “way over the line,” which leads to some great meta-commentary on gross-out comedy’s double standard for men and women. At a tailgate party, the Kappa Nu girls sell bags of weed in pie tins, with whipped cream on top. Teddy — who eventually joins Mac and Kelly’s side, realizing he’s one of them now — takes off his clothes to distract the girls while Mac and Kelly steal their weed, and when the sorority girls admonish Beth for failing to keep her eye on the stash, she protests, “I am a human woman, I had to watch that!”
The girls realize the only way to make their money back is to throw the kind of party frat guys will pay to attend. Their plan works, which provides another kind of meta-commentary: The “rape-y” party, complete with wet-T-shirt contests and mysteriously spiked punch, is a financial success. The girls realize how hard it is to have their kind of fun on the same scale as the frat guys’ parties: “The whole system is against us and there’s nothing we can do about it!” Nora cries.
The existence of Sorority Rising proves Nora wrong. Throughout the film, Mac and Kelly worry about their daughter growing up in a world of double standards; feeling obsolete, Teddy just wants to be of value to someone, an expression of the kind of panic that gave birth to the men’s rights movement. Shelby’s dad (Kelsey Grammar) shows up at the sorority house and admonishes his daughter for wanting to be “just as dumb as the boys,” but to Shelby, that’s the whole point. She doesn’t want special treatment, or to be put on a pedestal, but to be to be allowed the same freedom to fuck up as her male counterparts. “Partying’s like, a really big deal to us,” she tells Teddy.
Despite crude gags and plenty of goofy slapstick, Sorority Rising has a sweet center, envisioning a collegiate utopia in which girls get to have just as much fun as boys, but on their own terms. But more important, it’s really, really funny: the writing is sharp, the gags come fast and quick, and the performances are dynamic. Sorority Rising is a broad summer comedy that has an unapologetically feminist message and is also hilarious. See? That wasn’t so hard.