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Arts in Review

In Neighbors 2, social awareness gets commodified

“In contrast to the slapstick humour and cleverly arranged jokes of its predecessor, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising tackles a target university audience with the same kind of dialogue that they experience on their campuses. The film tackles sexism, feminism, ageism, racism, and every –ism relevant to the engaged college student all while draping a comedic blanket over it.”

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In contrast to the slapstick humour and cleverly arranged jokes of its predecessor, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising tackles a target university audience with the same kind of dialogue that they experience on their campuses. The film tackles sexism, feminism, ageism, racism, and every –ism relevant to the engaged college student all while draping a comedic blanket over it. The sequel targets a much different audience than the initial film, and aims not to simply entertain but also to inform — in some way or another.

The crux of the film is pretty much the same this time around. A trio of loner sorority-less girls Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Nora (Beanie Feldstein), and Beth (Kiersey Clemons) raise hell at a particularly inconvenient time for their neighbours, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne), who are in the process of selling their home.

The humour of in Neighbors 2 focuses more on the politically-correct question more than most comedies in the genre, however, there are several breaks from this pattern with the quintessential Jewish prods that Seth Rogen’s character can never resist. Rogen’s usual fondness for pot does not escape this film either, playing a fundamental role in the turnaround and climax of the film.

The cinematography in this second installment of the series is much more exploratory and daring than the first. In the original, the cinematography seemed somewhere along the lines of “set up a couple of cameras and shoot off some ad lib jokes,” whereas this film feels more structured. It is as if the studios gave director Nicholas Stoller, Rogen, and pals some cash to make the first film without much in the way of expectations, did a double take at the box office success ($18 million to produce with a $270 million gross) and decided to fine tune the machine for a more calculated second shot at the cash cow. Rather than prop up a camera and do take after take looking for comedy, camera movement was essential to storytelling and drive home the general criticisms of misogyny.

The average mega-college student will find themselves in familiar territory with this film, which is perhaps one of the movie’s main selling features. Neighbors 2 makes a clear point of outlining the sexism inherent to the Greek letter organization university social system, but sometimes has a tough time following through.

Yes, there are more than eight occasions where characters explicitly speak about women’s rights (that includes Seth Rogen on several occasions), yet one of the main plot resolutions is centred fully on the certainty that the whole sorority will be single-mindedly focused (read: distracted) on Teddy’s (Zac Efron) oiled-up striptease. While there are feminist themes, women and femininity often wind up as the butt of the joke.

There is also a vocalized movement for racial inclusivity in the film, yet the cast is still dominantly white and the only Asian character is heavily stereotyped. I was rooting for the character to blossom out of her stereotype and affect change within the plot, but was left cringing when she did not.

Sorority Rising, then, is a mixed bag: enough social justice awareness thrown in to appease an audience looking for “relevance,” but a limited sense of what inclusivity and cultural awareness really mean.

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