When it comes to Greek life representation in movies, the result is usually played up for laughs. The most famous example obviously comes from Animal House, which did an excellent job of playing with the tropes and stereotypes of Greek life at college. Nicholas Stoller’s 2014 comedy Neighbors did an excellent job playing with the stereotypes of fraternities, while adding a creative and new spin on the typical representation, obviously by adding in the element of next-door neighbors being affected by the fraternity’s antics, but also by adding Teddy’s arc of feeling dissatisfied with his life and worried about joining the real world. This made it one of my personal favorite films relating to Greek life, and one of my favorite comedies of 2014. While I don’t feel it necessarily warranted a sequel, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising did a fine job of expanding on these themes, and even bringing some new elements to the table.
The plot to Neighbors 2 is fairly straight forward, even more simple than the plot to the original Neighbors was. Mac and Kelly, reprised by Seth Rogen and Rose Byren, are selling their house to move to the suburbs, once their 30-day escrow period has completed. Meanwhile college freshman Shelby, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, is disheartened by the inequality of the campus Greek life system which seems to favor fraternities over sororities. This leads Shelby to band together with her fellow disheartened freshmen and start her own, off campus sorority. Meanwhile Teddy, reprised by Zac Effron, feels lost and alone in the world seeing his fraternity brothers moving on and becoming successful with their lives. Teddy meets Shelby and her sorority, and offers to help them start up as they move into Teddy’s old fraternity house. Teddy does this to get back at Mac and Kelly, who he feels ruined his life through the events of the previous film. This is his plan, until the sorority abandons him, leading him to join forces with Mac and Kelly to try and stop the sorority from getting too out of control, and scaring away Mac and Kelly’s potential buyers for their home.
The performances are all fantastic; Seth Rogen and Rose Byren do an excellent job as the seasoned veterans to the films shenanigans, and are smart enough to not think that the same old tricks they used to rid themselves of Teddy’s fraternity in Neighbors will be their simple solution for this second go round. Chloë Grace Moretz is a welcome addition to the talented cast, taking the role of the central antagonist yet being a likable, sympathetic character who simply wants to be treated fairly while finding her place at college, giving the film some less than subtle feminist tonality. The true star of the show here, I felt, was Zac Effron reprising his role as Teddy from the first film. Teddy is a truly sympathetic character in this film, having not grown at all over the last two years and continuing to struggle finding a place in life, mostly due to his criminal record from the first films events. This leads him to lash out in vengeance against Mac and Kelly, only to find at the end of the film that they’ve taught him a valuable lesson about comradery and friendship. For a character who had such a small arc in the first film, this sequel does wonders for expanding his character, bringing about a true arc between the two that shows an amazing, positive change for the character.
For as much as I liked about this film, however, there was plenty to dislike as well. For as smart as the writing was in terms of plot and refusing to simply recycle the plot of Neighbors but adding in a sorority, I found myself laughing significantly less at this film than I did when I first saw Neighbors. In addition to this, Zac’s character is the only one who I felt truly grew stronger from the events. Sure Chloë’s character learns a bit, but she doesn’t change much from when we’re first introduced to her. Seth and Rose’s characters, meanwhile, learn just a little about their abilities as parents, but otherwise remain mostly unchanged from their appearance in the first film.
Finally, the feminist elements of the film I feel unfortunately fell flat. The film makes some solid points about the Greek life system, and as a member of a fraternity myself I can admit freely that the sororities do seem to be held to a higher standard than the male fraternities on campus are, when it comes to things such as recruitment, event planning, and even something as simple as verbiage used when around certain people and members. So there’s definitely a lot to say about the equality of women in the Greek system, which is indeed what spurs the events of the film in the first place. This quickly devolves, however, and the feminist tones that were set up as the foundation of the film become the butt of the joke. While I’m glad to see the film laughing at EVERYONE and not just a specific group, the result is the feminist message being lost in the comedy, and thus feeling contrived when the more serious moments do occur, and falling flat when trying to make a point.
The film does have a very important theme, however, and that’s the importance and lastingness of friendship. Despite everything that has gone on through the film, the sisters of Shelby’s sorority learn that as long as they have each other, that’s what makes them a sorority, not having a house or being liked on campus. Teddy learns that despite his friends and brothers growing up and moving on with their lives doesn’t mean that they’ve forgotten him, and that their brotherhood is lifelong, not simply for a college career. This is a powerful message, and one of the core tenants of Greek life; these relationships are lifelong, and you will always have your brothers/sisters there for you, both during college and post-graduation. Seeing this outlined in the film made me ecstatic, and I’m all too happy to see this side of Greek life represented in cinema.
Overall, the film stands out amongst a sea of mediocre-at-best comedy sequels, and does its best to be new, creative, and powerful when it needs to be. It’s not perfect, and I still like the original Neighbors more than I like this film. That being said, I appreciate the direction taken with the film, and I especially appreciate the message of lasting brotherhood/sisterhood. I’m giving Neighbors 2 a 3.5/5, and strongly recommend anyone who was a fan of Neighbors to check it out!