Comedy sequels can be a tricky thing. How many good ones have really been made? Name one off the top of your head before you start Googling.
For me, the first one that came to mind was 22 Jump Street, which may have actually improved on its predecessor. Maybe National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? I know several people who hold affection for that movie. Can you put together a top five list (and without stretching to include a Pixar movie or other animated film)?
So I went into Neighbors 2 carrying some skepticism. I enjoyed the first Neighbors, though didn’t love it. Looking back now, maybe I was a bit too tough for saying it didn’t make me laugh as much as I wanted. Though I did think the movie deserved credit for tapping into a very real tendency in our culture: parents who are still trying to be cool while confronting the realities and responsibilities of adulthood.
By creating some compelling, intriguing characters in Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) the first time around, Neighbors 2 has a much more solid foundation to build on than most comedy sequels. Typically, the burden of a sequel is to get the band back together, try and create similar circumstances and jokes to those that made the first movie successful, and just ramp everything up to a higher level. More laughs! Bigger set pieces! Push the gross-out level!
Neighbors 2 is guilty of maybe trying too hard with its comedy at times, particularly with things that end up dangling between certain characters’ legs for all to see. (Fortunately, the viewer is kept from full view as the camera is situated from behind.) And there is one notable big sequence which takes place during a college football tailgate, opening up to a larger scale than the first Neighbors attempted.
Ultimately, however, the sequel remembers that its main characters struggle to maintain their identities and stay young — or hold onto what they enjoyed so much about their younger, more carefree days — is what made Neighbors more memorable than I originally thought it would be and worthy of a sequel. Where are Mac and Kelly two years later, as they’ve now been parents for a while and have a second child on the way? What about the dudes who lived in the frat house next door, particularly Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), now that their college days are over and being the big men on campus who can throw the best party no longer matters?
Life appears to be going well for Mac and Kelly. As with most parents having another kid, they haven’t gotten the handle on this mommy-daddy thing and are constantly questioning whether or not they’re doing a good job of raising their young daughter, Stella. They probably actually are terrible parents, and director Nicholas Stoller (who also co-wrote the screenplay along with Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, who created these characters to begin with) mines plenty of comedy from their wholly inappropriate language and behavior in front of their child.
(A recurring gag involves Stella frequently playing with an adult item that no young child should have within reach. Her parents’ resignation to this being her favorite toy leads to several funny scenes. Japanese manga can be used to cover up many embarrassments.)
On the other side of town, Teddy is struggling with his world growing and evolving while he wants his life to stay as it was. His bros are moving on — notably best friend Pete, who has met someone special, wants to get married and push Teddy out of their apartment. More importantly, those friends have found careers and are doing something with their lives, but Teddy is still stuck in retail, a half-decade older than his co-workers at the mall, because he doesn’t know what he really wants to do. (Oh, and the events of the first Neighbors tagged him with a criminal record that has made applying for new jobs difficult.)
But a major change-up is introduced when freshman college student Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) and two friends decide to rebel against the system that treats sororities as second-rate, forcing them to cater to fraternities, and create their own sorority house. Of course, the house that the upstart Kappa Nu chooses for their grand social experiment of a sorority which throws their own parties, preferably not based around guys getting laid, is the one which Teddy and his Delta Psi bros got kicked out of two years ago — right next door to Mac and Kelly.
The timing couldn’t be worse for the couple, as they’re moving to a bigger house in the suburbs and in the process of selling their current home. But the house is in escrow for 30 days, and the chances for a sale are threatened by a raucous sorority moving in next door. (Not to mention Mac and Kelly are still trying to raise a child next door.)
Yet for Teddy, Kappa Nu is a chance to go back to the past, to be appreciated for his wisdom and experience in running a fraternity and throwing the best parties on campus. However, the sorority’s zeal to disrupt the traditional system — while based in a desire for equality and a disdain for rules which no longer apply — pushes the envelope just a bit too far for Teddy’s liking. Order must be restored.
The biggest reason that Neighbors 2 is inferior to its predecessor is that Shelby and her sorority sisters aren’t as interesting (or off-putting) as Teddy and his frat bros were. Maybe it’s because the writers (notably all male) were afraid to push the boundaries with female characters and still make them somewhat sympathetic. Or maybe they just ran into a comedic wall while trying to maintain their point that women can’t be assholes as well as men can. Ultimately, there are far fewer laughs in this film, though Stoller and the cast certainly try their best to be outrageous.
But that doesn’t mean Neighbors 2 isn’t worth seeing. The main characters are enjoyable and comfortable, and it’s fun to see them evolve (or try to evolve) as the story gives them some depth, while still remembering what made them funny in the first place.
Rogen and Byrne, in particular, have a fun, casual chemistry that makes them entirely believable as a couple. Even if you think Byrne would be out of Rogen’s league in most circles, they see the world the same way and just get each other. They still want to have some fun (and be seen as cool and attractive) and not be completely defined as parents. Byrne was the star of the first Neighbors and once again gives this movie its wonderfully deadpan heart and sensibility. Someone has to create a comedy she can headline. If Rogen, Goldberg and Stoller can’t do it, maybe Byrne will have to do so herself. I’d certainly be willing to see that movie.