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From the Blu-Ray Shelf: Josh Reviews Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

I enjoyed the first Neighbors. I wouldn’t call it a comedy classic, but it was a very funny film with a great cast. I loved the Seth Rogen-Rose Byrne combo, and all the frat boys (Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jerrod Carmichael) were fun. So I was interested in a sequel, though I missed it in theatres this summer.

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Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising got weak reviews when it was released but I enjoyed it. As with the first Neighbors, this isn’t a brilliant or groundbreaking in any way film, but it’s pretty consistently funny and with a very short run-time (only 92 minutes!) it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

While the first film dealt with Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), young parents and first-time home-owners, dealing with the nightmare of a frat house moving in next door, here in the sequel they are preparing to sell their house but now have to deal with a sorority moving in next door.

On the one hand, that premise is such a clear attempt to reset the characters so they can basically retell the story of the first film that it’s somewhat eye-rolling.  On the other hand, it’s such a natural way to get back to the concept that made the first movie fun, that I can’t really complain.

Sequels are hard, and comedy sequels particularly so. There’s a tension between wanting to tell a new story while also preserving what everyone enjoyed about the first film. So often, what happens is that these sequels basically wind up telling the same story again. When this approach doesn’t work, the result is a film that feels boring and repetitive. So the trick for a sequel is to somehow be both new and familiar at the same time.  And so I sort of have to admire the simple premise of Seth Rogen & Rose Byrne battling a sorority instead of a fraternity.  It feels clever at the same time as it is obvious. This is not genius level comedy film-making, but it works.  The film’s short run-time helps the viewer not have to much time to overthink this obvious set-up.  And the terrific cast mines enough humor out of the fun of seeing these characters back in a similar situation that it all comes together.

Where the film is weak is that the new characters introduced, the young women in the sorority, are not anywhere near as interesting as the boys in the first film. They feel far less well-defined, less interesting.

Chloe Grace Moretz feels like good casting on paper as the main new character, Shelby, but I never quite got a bead on her character.  On the one hand, she feels like a rule-following good girl looking to burst out and have fun for the first time at college; on the other hand, in her first scene meeting with the other sorority girls she brazenly lights up a joint and is shocked that anyone finds that weird or inappropriate.  (Now of course, a well-written, three-dimensional character can contain seemingly contradictory character traits, but here it just feels like the character is ill-defined and took on different character-traits in different scenes based on what the film-making team thought was funny in that moment.  That’s not generally a successful approach.)

Beanie Feldstein plays Nora, and like Ms. Moretz she gives the role her all, but again the character is not very fleshed out.  The role seems like a pretty blatant rip-off of Fat Amy, Rebel Wilson’s character from Pitch Perfect.  She even has Fat Amy-inspired fat girl invincibility, seen in the funny but very random scene in which Seth Rogen’s character slams on the brakes of his car and Nora smashes through his front windshield, flies several feet through the air and smashes into the pavement, only to get up and walk away unscathed.  Ms. Feldstein is funny, I’d like to see what she could do in a stringer role.

Same goes for Kiersey Clemons, who plays Beth.  Beth seemed to me to be the most likable and interesting of the three main girls, and also the most realistic version of a normal college-aged girl.  Again, I wish the film had developed her character more.  Ms. Clemons seems like a terrific actress, I look forward to seeing what she does next.

Probably the best thing about the existence of Neighbors 2 is that it gives us more of the inspired Seth Rogen-Rose Byrne pairing.  Ms. Byrne is a wonderful dramatic actress but she is also a comedy dynamo as seen in such films as Get Him to the Greek, Spy, and of course the first Neighbors.  She and Mr. Rogen have great chemistry and I love all of their scenes together.

Ike Barenholtz was fun in the first Neighbors and he gets more of a great spotlight here in the sequel, absolutely destroying in some of his scenes with Seth Rogen.  I could watch the two of them banter back and forth all day.  Carla Gallo, who I have been a fan of since Judd Apatow’s Undeclared, is also fun as Ike’s wife Paula.

If you enjoyed the first Neighbors and/or if you like Seth Rogen, Neighbors 2 is certainly worth a watch.  It’s funny and enjoyably diverting.  Just not one for the comedy hall of fame.

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