You might not believe me when I say this, but Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is better than its 2014 predecessor. In fact, it’s one of the best sequels in recent years, and definitely one of the best comedic sequels of all-time. It’s also Zac Efron’s best big screen work, but that doesn’t mean we should rush to forgive him for Dirty Grandpa just yet.
Everyone from Neighbors is back, including the actress who played the youngest Radner, and they’re joined by three major newcomers who help inject fresh life into an admittedly familiar premise. Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) Radner, now preparing for the arrival of their second child, are currently in the final steps selling their home, but they have 30 days of escrow to survive before the deal is done. The couple already has a second home purchased, which they only received by forgoing escrow, and they now have no other choice than to make this deal work. Unfortunately for them, three female college freshman (Chloë Grace Moretz, Beanie Feldstein, and Dope breakout Kiersey Clemons) tired of living by the rules of others have decided to move in next door and launch the only sorority in America that can throw parties (which is a real thing. Sororities are not allowed to throw parties in the US. Really. Google it.) with a little help from the franchise favorite, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron).
Why is Teddy helping a bunch of barely legal college students open a sorority in the same house where his fraternity once lived? The answer is found in a potent, yet not too heavy handed crisis of self brought on by the realization his Delta Psi brothers have all gone on to establish successful lives that do not involve him. Specifically, it’s the engagement of his best friend Pete (Dave Franco) and his need to vacate the apartment they share that kickstarts Teddy’s path to the young women of Kappa Nu, but his time with the group does not last as long as he initially hopes because, to be frank, he’s old.
Feeling betrayed by his so-called sisters, Teddy agrees to help Mac and Kelly survive the escrow and chase the women of Kappa Nu out of the neighborhood. No one believes a group of young ladies will be a challenge, but they are wrong. What the leaders of Kappa Nu, lack in age and experience they more than make up for with a potent mix of creativity and fearlessness that makes them willing to go further than their competition. What Mac, Kelly and Teddy see as a nuisance is to them a first taste of true freedom. For the first time in each of their young lives the women of Kappa Nu are making their own decisions and receiving the benefits, as well as consequences, of those actions. They’re not perfect, but they’re also not stupid. They’re human, and by definition they are behaviorally flawed individuals that are constantly striving to be seen by the world as they see themselves.
Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) his once-again wife Paula (Carla Gallo) also return, this time with a soon-to-be-born baby in tow, but their presence is largely intended to round out the bigger ensemble scenes with added comedic talent and to offer an emotional sounding board for Mac and Kelly. The story would work just the same without their participation, but their work is so consistently fun and charming that you wish their tiny subplot was given more time, if only so you could enjoy the chemistry they share a bit longer.
The beauty of Neighbors 2 is that it manages to convey all of the above, as well as the Radners’ worries over baby No. 2 and Teddy’s quarter-life crisis without being too heavy-handed without allowing the comedy to ever wear thin. The jokes comes in all shapes and sizes at an alarming rate. Some rehash running gags from the previous films, while others allow us to understand the main characters and their relationship with one another in a whole new light. One scene in particular, when Mac is inexplicably teaching Teddy how to prepare hard-boiled eggs, plays so hilariously that I was nearly in tears before I realized the underlying subtext regarding Teddy’s own need for a mentor in any form. A comedy like this doesn’t need to flesh out characters like this, but Neighbors 2 finds a way to do it that feels earned rather than force-fed, and its presence makes the whole experience better.
At the risk of arguing the need for a third film in this franchise, I must admit Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is proof that comedy sequels don’t have to suck. The film delivers big laughs and heart in equal measure without by building atop the framework constructed in the first franchise without getting lost in the nostalgia of old jokes. There are callbacks, sure, but they never take precedent over new ideas and new emotional turns. Neighbors 2 may never win any awards, but like Magic Mike XXL in 2015 it is without a doubt one of, if not the most fun, good-spirited films you will see all year. Don’t miss out.