(Note: I’m going to use the names of the actors in place of the character names because it doesn’t feel right. Is Seth Rogen really ever not playing Seth Rogen?)
Thought not as funny as Neighbors (2014), and much more scattered, the movie has its heart in the right place, and Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne have enough chemistry as young parents that I feel content to live in the Neighbors world for as long as the movie has me (roughly 90 minutes).
This time around, Rogen, Byrne (pregnant again with a girl), and their toddler, Stella, are in the middle of selling their house. They’ve got buyers, and as long as the buyers don’t find anything wrong with the property in the next thirty days (everything is in escrow) then the deal is done.
As this is going on, we’ve got two more plots to follow that eventually converge. Zac Efron is forced to find a new place to live when his roommate, Dave Franco, becomes engaged to his longterm boyfriend and they need the space, and Chloe Grace Moretz and two friends, disillusioned instantaneously during their first foray into frat life, decide it’s time for women to be allowed to party, so they set out to start their own off-campus sorority, Kappa Nu.
As they’re inspecting a house with a realtor (Billy Eichner), it dawns on them they won’t have nearly enough money to rent it, and then it dawns on them that some distraught, strange guy is sitting alone in the empty living room five feet from them. It’s obviously Efron. Hurt by Franco, he ran from their place all the way to this house, the house over which he once reigned for four years in college. After a little conversation, both parties learn they have something to offer. Efron knows how to raise money to start and keep running a Greek organization, and the girls in turn let him live there. This house, if your memory is foggy, is still located right next to Rogen and Byrne’s.
Rogen and Byrne, after Kappa Nu has its first party, plead with the girls to just stay quiet for thirty days and then they can do whatever they want. They need a grace period for their escrow period. The girls, however, need to host parties to make money for rent so that Kappa Nu survives.
Pretty soon the houses are at war, and you want to root for both sides. If Rogen and Byrne lose their buyers, they’ve got two houses, a toddler, and soon a baby. They’re over (they remind us repeatedly). Moretz and gang created Kappa Nu in the name of equality, and feminism. You feel for both, but things, of course, turn bad. The Kappa Nu girls become very malicious in the way they try and outdo Rogen and Byrne. They also turn their back on Efron after he helped them get on their feet.
So Efron switches sides and pairs up with Rogen and Byrne. The three actors have great chemistry, and breathe exciting new life into a plot that had begun to slow considerably.
So I don’t forget, Ike Barinholtz and Carla Gallo are back as the family friends, but this time they’re disturbing, and gross. The most disgusting gag is given to them. Gallo’s character is pregnant, but they’re such bad people they’re actually neglectful of the pregnancy, to the point that after leaving their plot for a while, we return to see a baby foot hanging from Gallo. She’s in the middle of giving birth and hadn’t thought to tell anyone or go to the hospital. She’s just standing in the street outside a raging party. It’s awful. Luckily, this isn’t representative of the kind of humour in Neighbors 2, which is, if not progressive, at least a step in the right direction for Rogen and company. It’s pro-gay rights, and even more pro-feminism.
The characters and their actions tell us women are equal to men in every way. They’re “as gross,” as smart (smarter, Byrne argues), and they should be allowed to party the same way men do, and in general experience the same freedoms men do. It’s hard not to get behind a message like that.
There’s a scene a third of the way through where the girls attack the Rogen-Byrne house by throwing used tampons (again, not representative of the humour in the film) at their windows. When Efron, who’s begun to mentor the sorority girls, says that that’s disgusting and way over the line, Moretz argues that if it was a bag of dicks, Efron would find it hilarious. He starts to protest, and then really considers it, and then he can’t stop laughing. Finally, he concedes they’re right.
We’re taught this lesson in this movie again and again. As I watched, I felt like they were too on the nose, too ham-fisted, but now I think maybe it’s necessary to consistently remind the audience that this is what’s right, this is how it should be.
The first movie existed in a misogynistic world and used that misogyny for laughs at every turn. Some of those jokes still exist among all the talk of equality, most stemming from Barinholtz’ character, and they kind of undercut the message, but they drive it in so much it sticks with you.
The ending drags because there are so many loose ends to tie up. Zac Efron makes up with Dave Franco at Franco’s wedding, where Efron is both his best man and the “gay wedding planner,” the latter of which is his self-proclaimed new career. Moretz and gang, having received an eviction notice, need to raise an exorbitant amount of money to keep the house, so they try and figure what kind of party will have the widest appeal… Turns out, it’s the misogynistic frat kind. In order to save the house, the symbol of their beliefs, they need to go against them.
The party is a massive success, and so Rogen and Byrne fear the worst. It all comes to a head when, even though the Kappa Nu party is successful, Moretz and her two friends are crushed by the fact that they sold out their values. They fight between the houses. Rogen and Byrne overhear. They feel bad. The Kappa Nu girls are really just that, girls, and Byrne plays the maternal figure and tells them they have to fight for their equal rights, and the first way to do that is by having their party their way. When they do, it’s even more successful. So successful that they know they’ll need more living space for all the new pledges. This is what saves Rogen and Byrne. The girls suggest to them that they buy their house for the extra space. Rogen and Byrne are genuinely overjoyed, accepting literal buckets of money from the girls and gleefully yelling “fuck off!”
Three months later, Rogen, Byrne, and their two girls are in their new house, deeper than ever in the suburbs. The two young parents lay in bed together, talking over how the rest of their lives will play out, when their toddler daughter Stella joins them. “You’ll always be nice to us, right? You’ll always love us and be our friend?” Rogen and Byrne coo to her, unable to stop themselves from crying. All the stress with Moretz has made them acutely aware that their daughters are in danger of living in a misogynistic society, and that the age gap between them and their daughters might one day cause their relationship to deteriorate. It’s a bittersweet, poignant final scene, representative of the message the movie wants us to take away from it.
I hope I get to see this family again.