This past weekend, I went on a Rose Byrne-a-thon. My viewing of the actress’ two latest comedies was definitely a good news/bad news experience, a reminder of just how vital a role writing plays in the filmmaking process. The good news is that Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is great. And I don’t mean great fun. I mean great. I doubt you’ll see a more perfect comedy this year.
Kelly (Byrne) waged the epic turf war with the Delta Psis chronicled in Neighbors, the film finds the couple in the process of selling their frat-adjacent home. They’ve already bought another place and need only to get through a 30-day escrow period without incident to leave behind the scene of the infamous confrontation. So, naturally, their Spidey sense activates when the unoccupied dwelling next door suddenly has new residents.
Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Nora (Beanie Feldstein) and Beth (Kiersey Clemons) are freshmen on a mission. And here’s where director-cowriter Nicholas Stoller’s latest film takes on a progressive dimension that its predecessor lacked. The three 18-year-olds are Animal House-caliber partiers, but they’re partiers with a real-life point.
The young women are appalled to learn that sorority houses aren’t permitted to host parties with alcohol. Which means most of those parties take place in fraternities under conditions that, regrettably, can range from sexist to predatory. The three are having none of that — so, you guessed it, they decide to rent the vacant Delta Psi facility and start their own sorority, Kappa Nu.
When Mac and Kelly meet their new neighbors and learn why they’re doing what they’re doing, the couple is initially supportive. They have a young daughter, after all. War doesn’t break out until Mac asks that the sorority hold off on the loud late-nighters until his escrow period has ended.
That doesn’t work for the girls. How are they going to pay the rent if they don’t attract rushes? And how are they going to attract rushes if they don’t throw parties where you can have as much fun as the guys, without having to be on guard against them? It’s on.
The battle of wills between the sisters and the “old people” is a thing of warped, wicked, raunchy, borderline-surreal beauty — far more Fellini-esque than the 2014 film’s feud. One reason for that is Zac Efron, who returns as former Delta Psi alpha dick Teddy. Happy to be back in a Greek environment, the arrested-development case spends the first half of the movie as the girls’ military adviser, the second aligned with his old enemies, and all 90 minutes ripped and ruling. Teddy is a fascinating character, and Efron is superb in the role. His Magic Mike-style dance is an instant classic.
A second reason is that the film is lousy with instant classics — try erasing the attack of the used tampons from your memory. The original writing staff, Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, has been augmented by Stoller, Rogen and the latter’s longtime partner, Evan Goldberg, so it’s hardly a surprise that the film is a nonstop barrage of no-holds-barred brilliance. The thing has masterpieces like Superbad, Pineapple Express and This Is the End in its DNA.
And who knew Moretz could handle stoner humor so nimbly? She’s a laugh and a half, as are all the female principals. With comic chops like theirs, and the quality of this picture’s visual gags and writing, the upcoming Ghostbusters she-boot is going to have its hands full trying to top Sorority Rising. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest cineplex. Fighting for your right to party has never been this much fun.