Neighbors 2 Gave Me Hope About the Future of Comedy Sequels

At first I rolled my eyes.  It is no secret that I am no fan of the Hollywood sequel mill.  I thought the first installment of Neighbors was funny.  I laughed out loud  throughout and found out that there is a hotter Franco (HOW DID I NOT KNOW THIS?!?!?!?!).  Despite my enjoyment of the first film, I was filled with skepticism about a sequel.  Luckily, during my daily pattern of scrolling through feminist online spaces, I found Katie Barnes’s review in Feministing.  After paragraph two I was set on seeing the film.  What happened in that theatre both shocked and elated me.

After I watch a film I find it relatively easy to determine who wrote it.  Not a specific who, but it is clear to me when women write women characters, when White people write people of color, and so on and so forth.  Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising was a surprise.  When a group of white dudes showed up in the credits under writers I was immediately confused.  But how?  It’s not that men can’t be funny, I was floored, and quite disappointed, that at least one woman wasn’t responsible for some of the comedic genius and all of the accuracy regarding campus rape culture.  As it turns out, two women, credited as Associate Producers, helped with the writing.  When director Nicholas Stoller spoke to TIME he stated that they decided that they needed to have women on the project, or they’d risk inauthenticity in their female characters.  Why doesn’t this happen in ALL MOVIES?

According to the 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report from the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African-American Studies at UCLA men outnumbered women 4 to 1 among film writers.  Needless to say we are a long way off from equal representation in front of or behind the camera.  We should continue to strive to hire more women, but it will take years for Hollywood’s institutional sexism to crumble and for women to have access to the same opportunities as their male counterparts.  However, while we keep chipping away at the Hollywood (White) Boy’s Club, it is refreshing to see that a group of White dudes had the insight to realize that since their film prominently featured young women, they might need to CALL SOME FUCKING WOMEN.  (Yes, I realize the bar for male praise is incredibly low).

Neighbors 2 did much more than pass The Bechdel Test, it showed us a pretty accurate depiction of young women in a new phase of their life trying to figure out who they want to be. And for many freshmen during that first month of college, we want to make friends, drink at parties, and get high without coughing everywhere.  Neighbors 2 makes that point that women should be able to do this with the same ease as men.  Though the prank war that characterized the first Neighbors gives the film much of its laughs, it’s easily the least interesting part of the film.  Mac and Kelly’s (Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne) insecurity as parents, Teddy’s (Zac Efron) search for identity and his place in a post college world, and watching young women have a shit ton of fun on their own terms is what made Neighbors 2 worth the rising cost of the movie ticket.

Further, this film could have easily contained all White people and still been relatively good (although I would have been peeved).  Though it would seem obvious to cast a young, White woman to play the head of the university’s top sorority, Phi Lambda, that Shelby (Chlöe Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) originally want to pledge, we  instead get a great cameo by Selena Gomez.  Further, Kiersey Clemons, who slayed in DOPE, is not relegated to sassy sidekick or BBF (Black Best Friend related to the sassy sidekick, but her sole purpose is to tend to the needs of a White, female protagonist), but is a founding member of this sisterhood and we are given back story, albeit limited; the BBF never gets back story .  The couple seeking to buy Mac and Kelly’s house is interracial (played by Queen Abbi Jacobson and Veep’s Sam Richardson).  Lastly, Jerrod Carmichael reprises his role as  Garf  aka the Token Black Guy from the first film.  Further, the writers use his job as a cop to make some pretty smart and timely jokes about police brutality (and Hannibal Burress is his mentor on the force.  Broad City all up in this bitch).

In addition to race, the film is not comprised of only heterosexual characters.  Teddy’s best friend Pete (Dave Franco/ “The Hotter Franco”) has come out and is getting married, and starting the next chapter of his life.  Lastly, and arguably one of my favorite pieces of the film, is Beanie Fiedstein’s Nora. Unlike almost every sorority girl on-screen in any movie ever, Nora isn’t skinny. Yet, it goes almost unremarked upon. At the start of the film when the girls go to their first frat party, the frat brothers try to turn her away, but she goes in anyway. After that, absolutely nothing. No anxiety about bathing suit choices when the girls tan on the lawn, and no cheesy, problematic scene where her friends tell her “you’re not fat, you’re beautiful”.  Had this happened I would have booed, loudly.  She just gets to exist without all of the bullshit.

Now let’s be honest, Neighbors is no Mustang.  As Sarah Caldwell at Vulture reminds us, this is base level feminism. But, I have to remember that Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is not really for me. The screenwriters didn’t create a movie for an audience full of intersectional feminists who pick apart the media they consume on a daily basis.  Neighbors 2 is for the young, dude in college who comes to the theatre with his boys on Friday night. Hopefully, the college party the fraternity in the film throws disturbs them and they refrain from throwing ones like it. This film is for the new dads who like Mac, enjoy a beer, smoking a joint, and are trying not to fuck up their kid too badly. It’s the Teddys and the Macs in the audience who have the most to gain from seeing Neighbors 2.  However, unlike many films that cater to this audience, women can enjoy this film without having to sit through bullshit scenes of women whose “friendships” consist of fighting over men.  The bar for films to have decent representations of marginalized groups is low. For films marketed towards men, I frequently wonder if there are standards at all. I don’t think we will see Gloria Steinem or bell hooks making any cameos in Neighbors 3 (which should not exist by the way, two is plenty), but Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising  might just raise that abysmally low bar a little higher.

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