The stars of Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising — Seth Rogen as the hapless dad Mac (Mac?) Radner, Rose Byrne as his equally hapless wife Kelly — disappear for about fifteen minutes during the first act. In their place, the movie’s main “antagonist,” freshman sorority wannabe and burgeoning feminist Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) takes center stage. First she interrupts a giggly sorority introduction to express her distaste for it, only to find out that sororities in the United States are forbidden by the National Panhellenic Council to host parties. Later that day, she attends her first fraternity party, where she’s horrified by the male-driven debauchery on display. She returns to her dorm to commiserate and smoke weed — everyone in this movie likes smoking weed! — with two new friends Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), who help her arrive at the idea of starting a new sorority in their own image.
How rare is it to see a mainstream studio comedy treat the thoughts and emotions of a young woman and her friends with this much attention and nuance? Rare enough that Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising has been labeled “feminist” and “progressive” by many observers, as well as not feminist and flimsily progressive by observers of those observers. The movie’s main conflict comes when Shelby’s fledgling sorority Kappa Nu moves into the house formerly occupied by the onetime fraternity bro Teddy (Zac Efron), who terrorized the Radners during the first movie and returns to do the same as a mentor figure for Kappa Nu this time around. Mac and Kelly balk at the return of hard partying to their block, especially in the midst of a 30-day period of escrow on their old home, during which their tentative new homeowners (Sam Richardson from Veep and Abbi Jacobson from Broad City, both amusing but underutilized) can drop their bid at the first sight of trouble. But Kappa Nu doesn’t want to stop — they’re on a mission of gender parity and drunken revelry that won’t be deterred by a dorky middle-aged dude and his pregnant wife.
Listen to this week’s episode here.
This week on The M&M Report, Devin Mitchell and I discuss the recent controversy involving Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday’s assertion that Hollywood movies contribute to the culture that allowed an incident like last Friday’s shooting at UCSB to take place. We talked about Seth Rogen’s unfortunate response to the piece and debated whether Hornaday’s arguments of causation were valid and productive.
After that, we reviewed Jon Favreau’s food dramedy Chef, which made us very hungry indeed.
Finally, we took a look back at the first part of the final season of AMC’s Mad Men. We couldn’t come to a consensus on the musical number in the season finale, but we liked the rest of it quite a bit.
Come back soon for our thoughts on Orange is the New Black, Breaking Bad, summer movies and much more. Thanks for listening!
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Neighbors, in which a married couple with a newborn child squares off against the rowdy band of fraternity brothers next door, might seem disingenuous in the wake of recent sexual assault scandals in the world of Greek life. But director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and screenwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien assuage those concerns with a big-budget studio comedy that’s just a tad smarter than you’d expect, and considerably funnier.
The majority of the movie takes place on a single suburban street, in and around two adjacent homes. In one, Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) grapple with the trials and tribulations of raising a daughter, maintaining their relationship and staying sane. In the other, Delta Psi president Teddy (Efron) and his brothers aspire to earn a place on the fraternity’s coveted wall of history-making party antics. Naturally, these two goals can’t easily co-exist. Mac and Kelly initially, and haphazardly, attempt to win over the bros with their rusty youthful charm, but things turn sour once the couple realizes their baby is more important than some ‘shrooms and a carefully orchestrated “swordfight.”
Oscar season spoils us. The major Hollywood studio pack the fall release schedule with thoughtful movies directed by skillful filmmakers and brimming with exceptional performances from Hollywood’s acting elite. 12 Years a Slave! Gravity! Nebraska! Her! American Hustle! Movies are so awesome.
Then awards season really kicks into gear, right around the time when everyone and their mother is reaching back into their memory banks to fill out their Top 10 lists summarizing the year in film. We’re reminded of all the great experiences we had at the movies even before fall began. Remember when we cried at the sight of Oscar Grant cowering in front of a policeman at the end of Fruitvale Station? Remember when Cate Blanchett tore into her role as an entitled woman stripped of her privilege in Blue Jasmine? Remember when Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley reminded us that teen romance isn’t all sweaty vampires and broody mopes in The Spectacular Now? Movies are so great.
And they are. But the reality of Hollywood’s long-standing business strategy makes it very difficult for us to maintain that belief in the first few months of every new year. With their Oscar hopes secured, the studios take out the trash, dumping their most impressively unambitious projects of the year into the trash receptacle known as January.