Neighbors 2 full of the F word — no, the other F word

Photos courtesy Universal Pictures.

Christina Ulsh
@stina_ulsh

Another Point Grey Pictures flick, another surfeit of toilet humor, slapstick comedy and … what’s this? An undertaking in gender equality?

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising follows Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), who starts Kappa Nu when she learns sororities cannot throw parties and fraternities use their parties to prey on women. Kappa Nu settles in a house left on the market by an old fraternity — a house next door to Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen, who also writes and produces, and Rose Byrne). Having recently sold their home, the two find themselves scrambling to shut down the rowdy sorority next door when they realize the property is in escrow for 30 days, meaning the buyers can pull out for any reason. The ladies of Kappa Nu recruit Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) as a Greek-life mentor, but eventually dump him when he offers sound advice. Sanders, vulnerable after his newly engaged roommate asked him to move out, seeks solidarity and friendship, leading him to team up with the Radners to dismantle Kappa Nu.

Neighbors 2 manages to get the crowd laughing and poke fun at the patriarchy. It has noble intentions, yet the flick merely amounts to a series of gross-out gags and physical humor that fails to develop its story, characters or feminist themes.

The movie relies heavily on low-brow humor, which there is a market for. Catapulting people through the air and relying on the shock value of bodily fluids is a cheap way to garner laughs. Regardless of comedy preferences, one would expect to be able to relate to at least one of the characters. Everyone in the movie falls into one of two categories: disheveled parent or spurned friend. Yet the audience is left impassive. Each scene concentrates on the gags as opposed to getting anywhere near propelling its characters.

Unless you mean literally propelling its characters through the air, that is.

Instead of showing us how Shelby progresses as a character, her identity depends on her vocalizing who she is. On multiple occasions, she reminds us she didn’t have friends in high school or that she is a feminist. Mac Radner is a stoner, that’s his character, and Kelly Radner… has a dildo. Outside of being parents who have a healthy sex life trying to keep it together, they don’t really have much to bond over, talk about or struggle with. There’s a moment when the two are tearing up over their daughter, but it’s hard to say why. They feel fortunate to have her? They fear the impending day she’ll become a self-involved teenager? Nobody really knows because the movie rarely takes a breath to build a moment.

Again, Neighbors 2 puts the pranks and jokes at the fore, forcing the plot to flounder. It hopes that by following close the story of the first Neighbors it can accomplish what 22 Jump Street does with its predecessor. Sorority Rising doesn’t make fun of itself for being a sequel with a similar plot line, though. It tries to recycle material, such as the air bag routine, which was certainly shocking in the first movie, but not necessarily hilarious. All parties get a happy ending, which seems like it would be a lesson in compromise, but feels more like a cop out.

One thing that is accomplished through use of bathroom humor is the normalization of menses and its grand host, the vagina. Granted, shudders creep through the theatre when a baby foot juts out from between the legs of one of the characters along with other happenings that made some men uncomfortable. By trying to put a funny spin on the breeched birth or the blood-soaked tampon bombs, it says to those grossed out by either that these are natural occurrences. You’re better off laughing at them than censuring them because women are the ones who have to physically deal with the painful nonsense that keeps the human race going. If any feminist achievements were reached by this movie, it was its ability to bring to light the harmlessness of a woman’s reproductive bits.

Somehow, Sanders is the most developed character. He feels like he’s lost his best friend, so he tries to find solace, first in the sorority, which drops him when his values are too mature for its liking, then with the Radners, who pick up where his ex-best friend/roommate left off. While his sorrow and uncertainty are relatable, he still doesn’t have a believable persona. He’s the ultimate frat daddy who readily picks up feminist notions and applies them in the face of misogyny. He eagerly jumps from one group to the next in hopes of finding his place without any reflection in between.

Feminism in movies aimed at dude-bros is pretty much nonexistent. Unfortunately, to make the F word more palatable to a possibly reluctant audience, Neighbors 2 presents a lukewarm feminism that exclusively emphasizes sexual liberation and the “right to party,” the latter not exactly being on the forefront of the feminist agenda. Sure, women don’t want to be drugged and/or raped at parties. But the movie doesn’t exactly confront or condemn this issue, instead merely mentioning “rapey” vibes at frat parties and allowing two supporting characters to get “Cosby-ed” without any sort of consequence.

The only solutions offered are to hold your own parties that exclude sleazebags and to not drink the punch when they are present. You know, instead of just teaching men to not be predators. When faced with the problem of rape culture, the movie tells women to run and hide instead of confronting it.

It’s also hard to take the movement seriously when the same women asking to not be objectified use their sexuality as a weapon, stripping an unconsenting Mac Radner and pressing their bikini-clad bodies against his car as he tries to escape. The same group of ladies consider keeping Sanders around solely because “he’s hot.” Eventually, Sanders uses his own sexuality to distract and divide Kappa Nu as they attempt to make rent for the following month.

The movie’s five writers  (Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg — Stoller also directs and Goldberg also produces) aren’t exactly experts on the female experience. While it’s important for men to say, “No, fuck you” to men’s rights activists — thanks, Seth — it is also important for men to consult at least one woman when it comes to depicting her experiences, despite the crafting of a fictional likeness. Do forgive me if the writers approached a woman and ask why she needs feminism and she responded with, “Because my right to party is being threatened.”  It enthralls me that a group of influential movie writers and stars who resonate with leagues of men from various walks of life support gender equality enough to make it a main theme of their story, but tackling a woman’s perspective calls for female input, and disregarding that plays into the patriarchy and undermines the movie’s efforts at feminism.

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