There are those who claim “PC culture” will be the death of comedy, chipping away at what subjects are permitted to be joked about until nothing remains. “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” has entered that battle for the future of comedy as a laugh-out-loud, in-your-face deathblow to that caterwauled complaint, delivering the wild punchlines, outrageous behavior and gross-out gags of its predecessor, but with a savvy self-awareness.
Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne and Zac Efron return to wage war once more, but this time they’re on the same side, fighting against the newly minted sorority next door Kappa Nu. When the sisterhood’s nightly parties threaten the sale of Mac and Kelly’s (Rogen and Byrne) home, these 30-something “old people” aim to teach their new neighbors a lesson with a full-on prank war. However, they soon learn the young women of Kappa Nu are not to be trifled with.
From gleefully raunchy bromances like “Superbad,” “This Is the End” and “The Interview,” co-writers and producers Rogen and Evan Goldberg have chiseled reputations as contemporary comedy icons. Here, they challenge themselves to ditch the gay-panic gags and sexist punchlines that subgenre so often trades in, and the result is a freshly fun and riotously funny film that doesn’t make anyone a punching bag.
Directed by Nicholas Stoller, “Neighbors 2” brings back a lot of what made the first comedy such a success, as Rogen and Byrne battle their fear of aging and parenting with delectably awkward moments involving vibrators, bongs and failed adulting. Their chemistry is still kinetic, and absolutely explosive when Efron and his puppy-dog eagerness (and oft-flaunted abs) are introduced. Ike Barinholtz shines as Mac’s idiot buddy, while Dave Franco brings heart and some sly laughs as Teddy’s frat bestie. Plus that jaw-dropping airbag runner gets a winning callback. But it’s the introduction of Kappa Nu and all the inherent gender politics that makes this sequel smarter, more satisfying, and more fun than the original.
In her most thrilling performance since “Kick-Ass,” Chloe Grace Moretz co-stars as the pot-smoking and headstrong Shelby, who was inspired to form Kappa Nu after learning college-approved sororities can’t party. Seriously, they have to rely on fraternies and their various “super rapey” ho-themed soirees to get down. So, she, the preppy Beth (“Dope” standout Kiersey Clemons) and wild child Nora (scene-stealer Beanie Feldstein) forge their own sisterhood with parties made to satisfy themselves and not a male gaze, be it a cosplay-as-a-feminist-icon event, or a tearjerker movie night. Because sorority comedies are virtually unheard of, the differences between the fraternity and the sorority give the writing team a lot of new and risky material to work with, from double-standards in Greek life to gleefully girly moments to a gag involving some not-so-sanitary products.
However, sexism isn’t the only topic this comedy puts in its cross hairs. Police brutality, race relations, sexual identity, Men’s Rights Activists and even Bill Cosby’s sexual assault M.O. are stirred in. This sequel proves it’s not an issue of what you can say in comedy, but how you say it. Presenting a truly inclusive cast invites the opportunity for us all to laugh at and with each other in a way that’s unifying and cathartic; it’s what comedy aspires to. The remarkable thing is that all of this progressiveness never feels preachy, but rather part of the dialogue within the characters world, as it is our own. Ten years from now, “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” might just be counted as just another hit in Rogen’s roster, but for today, it’s groundbreaking.
Filled with deliciously stupid stunts, smart angles, sensational slapstick and characters you root for even as you relish their pain, “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” is the best comedy 2016 has seen so far.
“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” opens Friday.
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