Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

NeighborsDirector: Nicholas Stoller

Screenwriters: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogan

Cast: Seth Rogan, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Ike Barinholtz

I mentioned in my 2014 review for Neighbors that while I liked the film, “we may be starting to see Rogan start drawing from the bottom of the well.”  Now 2 years later the follow up to that film seems to confirm my assumption. The good news is that Neighbors and its sequel Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising fill a niche, namely the simple comedy.  Oddly enough, the traditional, simple, laugh-out-loud comedy is a dying breed.  Theatrical comedy is hitting such a level of broadness that if I see one more stupid, pointless buddy comedy, the eyeroll may be so intense I may never recover.  Seriously think about the last film that made you laugh in the theater that didn’t have superheroes or Kevin Hart teamed up with a white guy. It’s tough.  You’re likely to arrive at Spy or Trainwreck. So basically, it’s been a year since you laughed at a comedy in the theater. That alone is reason enough to go see Neighbors 2.

Rogan is back as Mac Radner who along with his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) and daughter Stella (Still played by those adorable twins Elise and Zoey Vargas) are finally getting out from under the tough times that ensued from living next to a fraternity.  They have managed to sell their house and are looking forward to living in the suburbs as they welcome their next child.  Unfortunately, the sale of the Radner’s house must go through an escrow period where the buyer can back out if any issues arise, and guess what…they do.  College freshman Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her friends dissatisfied with the antiquated and sexist ways of traditional sorority culture have decided to create their own independent sorority.  Where you may ask?  In a recently vacated property right next to good old Mac Radner’s house.  In need of guidance, Shelby happens upon disgraced former president of Delta Psi Beta, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), who is feeling the sting of a criminal record due to the consequences of his war with the Radners.  Teddy agrees to mentor Shelby and her friends as a way to feel valued but also as a way to get revenge on those Radners! Before you say, “Here we go again,” just know that this time it’s girls instead of guys, so it’s different.  Anyway, here we go again!

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising hits most of the same beats as its predecessor, but that’s not to say it isn’t entertaining.  It’s not as effective as the first film, but it does generate some genuine laughs and manages to be successful as just a simple routine comedy, nothing more.  One thing that does feel odd is the lengths the film goes to in order ensure that you know the filmmakers are not being sexist.  I mean if I’m looking for a movie with a message, normally I don’t look to a Seth Rogan movie.  But here I am getting a pretty sizable one about the rape culture of college campuses in the guise of an updated Feminine Mystique via unchartered sororities.  Now don’t get me wrong, that’s a fine message, but then why even invoke the Greek life at all? Why do these girls need a sorority to have their sense of value?  Also, there is not ONE mention of “going to class” or “getting an education” in this film, so let’s ease off on the pretense that there’s any kind of message here.  This is all simply a bold shout out by the five male writers that they are not misogynists.

Ok, so with that said, Neighbors 2 is a fine comedic installment that gets the job done when it comes to relatable, breezy humor. No need to “rush” out to see it, but if you want to laugh and learn how escrow works, then this may be the film for you! B

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 37 minutes.   

Neighbors

ImageRobert Frost once wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” The new Seth Rogan film, Neighbors pokes numerous holes in that philosophical statement and illustrates why Frost’s New Hampshire home was very, very well isolated.

This is not the first comedy film to go by the title Neighbors. In 1981, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi followed up the success of The Blues Brothers with a dark misfire about a suburban man (Belushi) whose life is flipped upside down by his obnoxious neighbor (Aykroyd). The film was a production nightmare and was also the last teaming-up of Belushi and Aykroyd before Belushi’s death. It was also a missed opportunity from a simple and potentially brilliant film idea.

Now, Rogan and co-writer Evan Goldberg seem to have righted a wrong by bringing their signature raunchy wit to their latest production.

Rogan plays Mac Radner, a new father, who with his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne), is trying to adjust to a new responsible life now that the carefree days are behind him. Caring for a newborn proves to have its challenges but none measure up to the challenges of having a fraternity move in to the house next door. Not wanting to be the square neighbors who have to tell the kids to, “Keep it down!” Mac and Kelly decide to play it cool at first and let these frat brothers know that they are still hip and young. They approach fraternity president Teddy (Zac Efron) and awkwardly suggest he and his buddies keep the noise down. Within days, however the frat parties are out of control forcing Mac to call the police and report a noise violation. It may as well have been the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand because it’s an all out war from that point forward.

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Robert Frost’s home in Derry, NH.

Teddy and his band of brothers (including such familiar faces as Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Jerrod Carmichael) pool all of their intellect and creativity and aim it not at academics but at the Radners. Carefully placed air bags, hysterically themed parties, and shenanigans aplenty increase the Radner’s misery and decrease the Radner’s home value, making it impossible for them to move.

But don’t count those Radners out yet. Mac and Kelly, along with their divorced friends Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo), do not go down without a fight.

Neighbors has the edge, pacing, and cringe-worthy raunch we’ve come to expect from the best of Rogan’s efforts. The jokes are funny, but we may be starting to see Rogan start drawing from the bottom of the well. Much has been made of Rogan transitioning from playing characters who are more juvenile to those who are more mature and adult. This “maturity” seemingly comes along with some retreads or re-purposing of jokes that he has used before. One example would be the interesting biological party trick Dave Franco’s character Pete is able to “produce.” This is identical to the interesting “gift” Jason Mewes’s character Lester is able to “achieve” in Zack and Miri Make a Porno. This is more of an observation than a criticism, but it will be interesting to watch how Rogan “comes of age” as a major player in the world of comedy. What certainly does work for this film is how well suited the rest of the cast is for supporting Rogan and Goldberg’s script. Rose Byrne holds nothing back in her performance as Kelly and with this film as well as her uptight and hilarious turn in Bridesmaids she has become a surprisingly comic actress for one originally so suited to drama. Efron is perfect as Teddy and plays the character with endearing charm compelling the audience to both revere and revile him. Much of the film’s heart is a result of the tumultuous relationship scenes between Efron and Franco. Lastly, the baby (played by twins Elise and Zoey Vargas) is flippin’ adorable!

Neighbors is a top-notch comedy and capitalizes on a simple but brilliant concept. B+

Neighbors is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes. Stay midway through the credits for more scenes of that flippin’ adorable baby!

This is the End

ImageI know this won’t be a popular statement for the 80 or 90 people that loved Freaks and Geeks in 1999, but I’m glad it got cancelled if it led this group of young actors to strive for a level of celebrity that allows for a film like This is the End to be made and to work so well! 

This is the End is another example of pseudo-reality entertainment in the style of Curb Your Enthusiasm, where actors play versions of themselves albeit sometimes deeply ironic versions of themselves; I’m talking to you, Michael Cera – at least I hope I am!  Seth Rogan wrote and directed this film along with his partner, Evan Goldberg, and the film clearly benefits from having someone so close to the actors involved with all parts of the production. 

This is the End opens simply enough with Seth Rogan meeting his friend Jay Baruchel at the airport.  They plan to hang out in LA and eventually end up heading to James Franco’s new house for a big house-warming party.  The opening act of this film is a cameo-filled (Emma Watson, Rhianna, and Paul Rudd to name a few) laugh fest that just piles on the humor in ways that a big-screen comedy hasn’t done since The Hangover in 2009.  The comedy is not just name-dropping cheap laughs though.  Rogan and Franco along with Jonah Hill and Jay Baruchel have permeated their way into celebrity in such a way that they can satirize the entertainment business through self-referential humor.  Rogan has written a screenplay that characteristically paints his characters as corrupted in one way or another by the entertainment industry, and this biting satire plays out far beyond the opening act. 

Rogan also makes a series of wise choices as both a writer and a director that keep this film from quickly growing stale.  Most notably is his decision to play the rest of the film as a true disaster film.  Once the inevitable apocalypse begins, it is not treated as a joke to introduce more absurdity.  Instead, it is used as a backdrop of real danger designed to continue the motif of contempt that has built up in the characters.  That is not to say the laughs stop coming – that is in no way true.  However, the balance of humor and real danger keep the film fresh and alive. 

The apocalypse that hits is quickly discovered to be a literal onset of the Book of Revelations complete with the Rapture and the arrival of Satan on Earth.  Such high stakes force the boys to hole up in Franco’s house along with Craig Robertson and Danny McBride.  Irreverent humor abounds with some of the meanest, nastiest, low-brow, toilet humor imaginable – all of it hilarious.  Occasionally, the film hits a slight snag in terms of pacing and some of the gross-out humor is tasteless and extreme, but it is hardly at the film’s detriment.  The film has a little bit of something for everyone; in fact, even fans of The Backstreet Boys owe this film a tremendous debt of gratitude for preserving a shred of their relevance in cinematic history. 

Rogan and company have truly tapped into a genre of humor that grows along with them.  In one scene, they try to kill boredom by filming crude home-movie versions of sequels of their own films.  Somebody get to work on this exact version of Pineapple Express 2 immediately!  In fact, This is the End would be a great exclamation point at the end of the “end of the world” movie fad that has been so commonly explored in entertainment lately.  However, with World War Z, The World’s End, and Elysium still to come this summer along with fall’s second installment of The Hunger Games series, it’s clear that we are far from done with this genre.  A-   

This is the End is rated R – very, very, very R – and has a running time of 1 hour and 59 minutes.  It is heavy on the raunch, and while I highly recommend it as a comedy, it is not for the easily offended.