Rated R, and very R. I would write "VR", but that would be a whole different experience. Like, it'd be like a 3D simulation of doing a lot of drugs and horrible things being done to one another. There's also one really gross visual nudity gag that's pretty juvenile. It's a stoner comedy. The things that you expect in a stoner comedy happen in this movie.
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Stoller
Comedy sequels are hard. I guess all sequels are hard, but comedy sequels are really tough to deal with. There's such a fine line that has to be walked and even the best executed among them can leave a movie that is perfectly fine. This might be my most freshman-level intro paragraph that I've ever done, but Neighbors 2 completely balances exactly what a comedy sequel should be while ultimately leaving behind a movie that will probably just be okay.
I liked the first Neighbors movie. It's probably because I've super cooled it on the raunchy comedy. I am never sure if trends are or are not happening. I tend to have blinders on when it comes to understanding the cultural zeitgeist. But in my head, the following happened to Hollywood:
1) The Hangover reinvigorated the studio mentality to make raunchy comedies. A million raunchy comedies came out. (This is a close minded view because I think that Judd Apatow probably set the scene for this to happen.
2) The Hangover sequels put a nail in the coffin, at least temporarily, on the raunchy comedy. Whenever these movies come out, they tend to be during the off-season and do moderately okay compared to other films in the theater at the time.
Yeah, that's completely speculating. But remember when there were a million dirty comedies coming out starring big name comedians? They tend to be a lot more tame. Neighbors 2, however, actually really rests in the super raunchy category. I'm not saying this is a good thing. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. From a faith perspective, I have to wag my finger at this movie. I mean, it's pretty gross and probably isn't good for your soul. That's as clear as I can make it. But from a movie-making perspective, it isn't really wishy-washy either. I don't love movies that try appealing to everyone. I know that everyone lost their minds at Game Night. (When I mean "everyone", I'm referring to the limited audience that saw it, which is more than the average comedy that comes out.) But movies like Game Night and Tag seem to really lose their lasting power because they ride the fence too much. There's a wink and a nod, which the cultured part of me really respects. But sometimes a movie like Neighbors and its sequel embrace what everyone is thinking and gives a cathartic release to how absurd a film can get.
But then I have to look at the staying power of Neighbors 2. Trust me. Now that I'm watching far fewer movies (I need to re-learn how to wake up at 5:00 am), I watch what kind of falls across my path. These are the movies that tend to be the "shut your brain off movies" or "watch with the kids movies." (This is a "shut your brain off" movie. Definitely not a "watch with the kids" movie.) I was talking about the comedy sequel. If you read my stuff on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I talk a lot about the problems with sequels in general. It's so much worse with the comedy. There is an expectation for the movie to be exactly like the first film while simultaneously offering completely new content. Part of this ties into the concept of the running gag. A film can introduce a gag that is usually the memorable moment of the first movie. With the case of Neighbors, it comes from the airbag joke. The first movie really plays with the airbag gag a lot. But the thing about the running gag is that the filmmaker has to be really careful about using it. The reason being is that overusing that gag can retroactively spoil the joke overall. While the Austin Powers trilogy may be the most accepted comedy trilogy that I can think of, watching that series now may be extremely taxing. The running gags get to be a bit old. Neighbors 2 really dances around the fact that the airbag gag exists. It acknowledges and builds upon it. The result is a joke that works, but doesn't really slay as a comedy bit. It's funny. I won't deny that it is funny. But did I laugh harder than the first film? Probably not. With an action movie, a sequel can choose to go more intimate. The movie is actually allowed to get smaller. Not a lot of films take this route because it is dangerous. People often say that they want bigger and badder. But really, an intimate film is always an option. But with comedy, no one really wants smaller laughs. And that's what is going on with Neighbors 2. I talked about The Hangover trilogy. The sequels to the first film are so awful. They are recycled moments from the first film, which is mind-boggling. The jokes don't work at all. Neighbors 2 was worth watching. I had a really good time with it. But at the end of the day, I got a slightly less impressive Neighbors.
From a storytelling perspective, it is really odd to see what is going on in Neighbors 2. My argument was that The Hangover trilogy murdered raunchy comedies. There is one more element that kind of makes dirty movies harder to make. Neighbors 2 kind of addresses that head on. Raunchy comedies tend to be really regressive in their politics. I have to admit, a lot of older dirtier movies just seem uncomfortable nowadays. The team behind Neighbors 2, while finding the natural progression of the plot by gender swapping the titular neighbors, did the smart thing by allowing the film speak to something kind of new. I wouldn't point to Neighbors 2 as culturally relevant or anything like that. But it doesn't deny that comedy has to evolve with the times. I wish it was a little more polished because often Neighbors 2 stumbles on its own morality. Let's look at it moment-to-moment. The antagonists of the movie is the sorority that moves next door. The villains are ultimately sympathetic. Starting the movie with a haunting idea that fraternities are allowed to throw parties while sororities can't (a statement that's almost accurate. Sororities can't have booze). There is an injustice that forces the girls into the spot of having to rent this frat house. Okay, I'm on board. I love a good sympathetic villain. But from this perspective, the problem is actually kind of easy to solve. The girls are the oppressed. The only way to make them antagonists is to make them unlikable. The movie highlights how unreasonable the girls are getting throughout the film. There are so many moments where, if the girls just didn't cast themselves as the antagonists, that the movie would resolve itself quickly.
This is where the movie kind of abandons its initial characterization of the girls. The sorority instantly becomes age-ist. With the fraternity next door in the first movie, it was always understood that they were dumb, causing the conflict between the two. But the sorority really shifts the intelligence of its antagonists. Often, the girls are seen as really woke and sensible. They have complex plans and they see the injustice of the college system, while spelling it out. Heck, they throw a party that is about strong female role-models. But then, they instantly become dumb whenever the film needs them to be kind of dumb. When being reasoned with, they instantly become morons. The movie needs them to ignore the obvious answers so the story can progress. To add to that problem, it also needs the movie to have Zac Efron team up with Seth Rogen. It's the same thing that lots of franchises do. I commented on it a lot in our Fast & Furious themed podcasts. The old villain becomes the new hero. This means that the sorority has to betray him. While the joke lands, it is very hard to sympathize with our villains who should be kind of right about the whole thing. And this is where the cultural landscape buts heads with the raunchy comedy. We have a marginalized antagonist going up against the morally right, but traditionally over-privileged protagonist. Like I often say, the movie wants its cake and to eat it too. It's weird. Side note about the whole thing, and this is mostly throwing shade at the marketing team: It's really weird that Seth Rogen and Zac Efron get such better billing than their female co-stars. Look at the packaging. Chloe Grace-Moretz is relegated to the background of that poster. She's a bigger character than Zac Efron's. While I think he's hilarious, his part isn't as meaty as it was in the previous film.
But Neighbors 2 is probably one of the funnier raunchy comedies I've seen in a while. If it wasn't a sequel, it would probably be kind of amazing. But at the end of the day, this might be more of a commentary on other raunchy comedies and their lack of adapting to contemporary norms. It's a fun movie and it's probably a step in the right direction. But if it wasn't rushed into production, it probably would have a little bit more to it than a forgettable sequel.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.