Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)

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The battle over real estate value begins once more as the Radners, looking to move their home out of escrow, take on the new sorority filled with girls who are tired of rules around their partying.  Nicholas Stoller directs Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, with the screenplay written by Nicholas Stoller, Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O'Brien, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogen, and stars Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, and Chloë Grace Moretz.

Seth Rogen's recent run of socially conscious films has been a disaster.  It's hard to place an exact starting point but I'd have to say it was The Interview, where the satirical potency is rendered toothless by Rogen and company casually glossing over the sexual slavery to get to the yuks about Rogen sticking capsules up his bum.  I thought it wouldn't get worse than that, but little did I suspect Sausage Party was on the horizon with its brazen arrogance on religion.

Now comes Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, where the level of feminist knowledge applied to the plot consists of mostly dry reproduction of facts in the dialogue.  The strongest indicator we're dealing with bargain basement feminism is in one of the last scenes involving women telling other women it's okay to dress how they want.  It's "woke" dialogue 101, taking one of the most easily communicated points about cultural relativism with respect to dress and presenting it as a climactic thought on sisterhood.  Sit with me in stunned silence while we process that five men needed almost an hour and a half to get that across.


Done?  Alright, let's move on to the rest of this disappointment.

Among Sorority Rising's sins include wasting Jacob Wysocki. In fact, skip Sorority Rising, and go watch Terri.

Rogen and Rose Byrne return as Mac and Kelly Radner, two of the worst people on celluloid.  Having learned nothing from the first Neighbors, they continue to treat all other humans as living obstacle courses for whatever they want at the moment.  I won't entertain the notion that Sorority Rising criticizes either of them as the major conflict of the film resolves because of their benevolence.  This is further bolstered by an overwhelmingly white perspective from the screenplay like when the boys have the gall to write, "This is how the real estate crisis happened," as Mac and Kelly nod along in faux understanding of escrow.

Oh but how I wish that wasn't the only example of the script's tone deafness.  Garf (Jerrod Carmichael) moans about wearing a body camera as a cop because, "it's not like I'm going to shoot myself."  Ah, the potential of suicide and blind ignorance to systemic police issues, great source of comedy.  Later on Garf and Watkins (Hannibal Buress) scream with their weapons drawn as they arrest two white weed selling crews only to relax into a chillout vibe when they arrest the black crew.  Never let an opportunity to present stereotypes pass up, even if it's at odds with earlier jokes about police brutality.

There's satirical potential here but that would require a grasp of the police problem in the United States that leads black officers to exercise authority more in-line with white supremacism (see Sheriff David Clarke and the LAPD Rampart case for two examples).  Sorority Rising mostly goes for ignorance, setting Kanye West's "BLKKK SKKKN HEAD" - which is getting a lot of soundtrack work these days - as a marching band cover for our white protagonists to carry out a heist.  You could see it as ironic juxtaposition but it wouldn't change a black anthem being hijacked for white empowerment.  The shift to "Sabotage" in the same scene is lazy but more directly applicable to idiots who think themselves badass.

Sorority Rising applies the same dunderhead approach to all other subjects.  Pete (Dave Franco), who was the best part of Neighbors, is suddenly gay with selfie exuberance and ukulele proposals to his boyfriend.  Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) gets funny scenes with her father but is stuck talking about sorority statistics the rest of the time.  Then there's her sorority sister Beth (Kiersey Clemons), one of the only black characters that appears throughout Sorority Rising, written with no confidence and doesn't get to respond when a casually racist real estate agent (Billy Eichner) tells her two white friends they're queens before shrugging Beth off.  The five white men who wrote Sorority Rising revel in basic awareness of the harm these stereotypes cause without being funny about any of them.

Zac Efron is beautiful - that's for damn sure.

This isn't to say Sorority Rising is without laughs and it's telling that those laughs share a common theme in the insecurities of men.  We see this in the scenes with Shelby and her dad as her independence makes him realize how much he misses having her home.  That's honest, healthy, and it doesn't hurt Kelsey Grammer gets to be the stern then heartbroken dad.  Teddy (Zac Efron) steals the best scenes in Sorority Rising before going back to being a bro's bro.  His introduction as a "...beautiful centaur sitting thoughtfully over there," is a hilarious bit of dusty myth-making, and his easily shattered perception that, "Boise-boys and Ida-hos," is sexist should be the benchmark for how men handle those conversations in "real life."

I'm sure the five white dudes who sat down to write Sorority Rising did so with the best of intentions.  It doesn't change that they're five white dudes who are funnier writing about their own insecurities instead of the lame attempts to talk about the experience of women or PoC.  If they really wanted to push the boundaries, maybe each writer should have taken a look at the four collaborators they worked with, and realized maybe the all-white/all-male writing credits are part of the problem.  Until then, good intentions don't make for good results.

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Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)

Directed by Nicholas Stoller.
Screenplay written by Nicholas Stoller, Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O'Brien, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogen.
Starring Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, and Chloë Grace Moretz.

Posted by Andrew

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