Much is written about comedy’s power to deliver important messages and instigate debate while wrapped in a duvet of laughs so cosy we’re relaxed into discussing contentious issues. Almost like swallowing an opioid before receiving bad news, it chills us out. Chris Rock’s monologue on diversity at the 2016 Oscars, for instance, packed an applause-worthy punch while still making most of the audience smile along with him as he ripped their collective industry apart.
The weight of balance between fun and memorandum lies largely with the judgement of the comedians involved and what the audience might be expecting from them. An hour-and-a-half of slapstick and bare torsos courtesy of King of Silliness Seth Rogen, therefore, might not be where you’d expect to find a pleasing flush of feminism. Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising is loaded with it. It’s also rolling in all that silliness you’d think might be there, too.
Two years on from where Mac (Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) came up against Teddy’s (Zac Efron) heinous frat house parties in Bad Neighbours, all looks peaceful. With toddler Stella and a new baby on the way, they take the decision to upgrade to a new neighbourhood. Life runs suspiciously smoothly until the boys who almost broke them are replaced with a girl-gang setting up a new sorority before they can close the deal on the house sale. Headed by social outcast Shelby, played brilliantly by Chloë Grace Moretz, Kappa Nu is born in protest against real life rules stating that female college sorority members aren’t allowed to ‘party’ unless attending a bash thrown my male fraternity members. This astonishing and unfortunately genuine inequality sets the tone for the whole film.
Shelby and Co. need a place to grow their enclave and it’s no surprise that they find themselves rocking up next door to Mac and Kelly. Neighbours 2 is about the comedic stress that comes from knackered parents who need a decent night’s sleep and to sell their house coupled with the chaos caused in their neighbours’ wake. But it’s far more about why the girls deserve the right to be just as awful as the house’s previous inhabitants. Your level of irritation in reaction to the weed-smoking (and selling) girls will no doubt be dictated by age, but it’s impossible not to sympathise or even empathise with their break-the-mould cause. And in fact, they’re not really that awful at all. That perpetual swing back and forth between wanting the Radners to get some rest and enjoying seeing the girls flourish as campus outlaws is just one of the reasons the film is so enjoyable.
Ultimately, Neighbours 2 drives home the very obvious and yet criminally ignored notion that when women and girls are given the room to breathe into their own decisions, don’t have impossible and unfair standards to meet, and don’t live their lives being people-pleasers, they’re infinitely happier and more successful. What’s especially great is that it’s all done with a backdrop of physical and smutty comedy, making it somehow seem even more a bastion of common sense.
Rogen and Efron do revisit some of the jokes that served them well in the first instalment, but not to an extent that they’re exhausting. The cast’s ability to laugh at themselves remains impressive too, whether about physical attributes, race, religion, modern parenting, sex or the digital communication differences between the two generations, everyone’s willing to poke themselves and each other in the ribs. With his writing credits and his almost exclusive life in comedy, it’s easy to hand all the credit for Neighbours 2 to Seth Rogen, but Zac Efron is often underrated for his comedy timing. As Teddy, the adonis trying to navigate his lonely quarter-life-crisis and accept his albeit pretty ageing, he gets it as spot-on as Rogen, Byrne and all the young women on set.
Above all, the film is incredibly funny, if you allow yourself to ease into its goofiness. You can be snobby about it, but being pretentious about comedy is an unattractive human trait. At times the plot is entirely unbelievable, but it really works. And on this occasion, you can’t even say that it serves no purpose beyond the laughs, not that comedy necessarily needs such justification. Whether it was the wonderfully understated representation of a gay couple or the normalised feminist overtones, it really is a double-duty film. It’s been some time since I’ve felt self-conscious about laughing too loudly in the cinema while also pursing my lips at how much social comment they managed to pack in. It also includes the best use of the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage I’ve seen in years, but I’ll let you enjoy that for yourselves.
Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising is showing nationwide now in the UK. It opens in North America on 20th May.