Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising [2016] is the follow up to 2014’s highly successful (read: immensely profitable) comedy starring Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne and directed by Nicholas Stoller. For context, Stoller’s previous work includes comedies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall [2008] and Get Him to the Greek [2010].

Ineffectual Satire… If, for a second, the thought has crossed your mind on whether the title Sorority Rising is a reference to Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising [1964], then rest assured—or sit uncomfortably in rage—that the connection is likely incidental. If perchance, you watched one thinking it was the other, then you would leave very confused. Though the two films, very (very!) broadly, could be said to have similar elements, Sorority Rising is much less incendiary and subversive than Scorpio Rising. Scorpio is about subcultures and sexual perversion; Sorority is about... Well, a subculture, of sorts, and their empowerment (sort of); the difference—and it’s a major one—lies within the subcultures in question. Anger’s subjects are the misfits, the disenfranchised: the fringes of society, whereas Stoller’s subjects—sorority girls and white upper-middle-class heteronormative couples—are the faces of privilege second only to college-educated cisgender white men. And it’s this difference that makes Sorority a slightly problematic film because unlike Scorpio, which lends a voice to the fringes, Sorority is a smart business decision. It piggybacks on feminism and LGBTQ rights to capitalize on our current cultural climate. Female empowerment and LGBTQ rights are certainly important, but they’re also the new trendy issues to care about. It’s easy to take a stance when the issue is so clear-cut: If fraternities can throw parties that serve alcohol, clearly sororities should be able to do so too. As a sequel to the first film, this is both shrewd in its symmetry of storytelling and as a business tactic. And yet, this issue is an issue so low on the totem pole of issues that to spotlight it is reductive and is almost an insult to any real conversation to be had about the topic. Even giving Sorority the benefit of the doubt and interpreting it as a critique of Greek-letter organizations, it doesn’t have much to say beyond the common platitudes (i.e. frats are rapey and obnoxious and there’s a double standard). Though comedy first and foremost must be funny, it also should have some bite to it and this is where Sorority’s fangless satire falls short of delivering any satisfying commentary. Perhaps what’s more insidious is that this cash grab of a movie feels like the product of a bunch of well-to-do white men pandering to the sensibilities of left-leaning liberals in order to exploit the issue of gender inequality for capital gains. (Sure they consulted women; no, it doesn’t make this film any less vacuous.) And though I did not actively dislike Sorority, I can’t help but have some reservations about it because it leaves me ambivalent about whether it helps or hurts the discussion that it has clumsily stumbled into.

Fairies & Cherries are A-Okay… So, what can I say about Sorority? What I can say is this: I do appreciate that there isn’t any gay panic in this film. Though this, in and of itself, shouldn’t be something that’s praiseworthy, Hollywood comedies have set the bar so low that to have a gross-out comedy without gay panic is a nice departure from the status quo. Sorority also portrays a different kind of female character than the ones commonly seen in standard comedies and by this, I mean that they aren’t chiefly a sex object. In lieu of vying for male attention, they throw Feminist Icon Parties; in lieu of nagging their boyfriends, they zip up onesies and watch The Fault in Our Stars. The women in Sorority are confident, supportive and inclusive; they lift each other up and this is again a nice departure from the status quo. (Tangentially related, I’d like to take a moment to give Awkwafina a shout out. Of the bunch of sorority girls, her character was, by far, my favorite sorority girl. Any character that says, “I’m hawt. I fucked the pizza man. I gave him five stars on Yelp,” as she haphazardly eats chips, is a keeper in my books.)

Laughing With the Manchild… What else is praiseworthy? Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen. Their characters continue to be endearing protagonists. Byrne and Rogen are good at what they do as they capably tap into both humor and sincerity. It’s amusing to watch them give a panicked recount of their foibles as parents; and equally, it’s touching when they lie in bed with Stella and ruminate aloud to each other about Stella’s future. They are ultimately relatable because everyone has some version of these insecurities. Nowhere is this more evident than the film’s running joke about escrow. Seemingly, other than the realtor, no one actually understands what being in escrow is or even how to use the word for that matter. As a result, the word escrow is used in all manners and forms to varying degrees of hilarity. My favorite is when a distressed Rose Byrne posits that she thinks that they are “escrowing apart” whereas they should be “escrowing together”. And call me a sucker, but I have a soft spot for these characters because I relate (and maybe you do too). Growing up doesn’t come with a handbook and the frankness to which the characters of the Neighbors universe admit that they haven’t a clue if what they’re doing is correct is honest. As a comedy, Sorority Rising is an apple that hasn’t fallen far from its tree. Its antics can be amusing and funny, which admittedly is no small feat for a comedy sequel as comedy sequels are often quite drab. And yet, I’d hesitate to say that this is a great or important comedy.

A mild satire that is occasionally amusing and intermittently insightful.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
3.5Overall Score
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