Spoilers ahead for Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising...
According to movies like The House Bunny and Legally Blonde, sorority girls like to (or at least should like to) primp. While those films share a beauty-isn’t-skin-deep message, they also perpetuate the image of the pastel-clothing-clad, perfectly-coiffed female. That’s why the climactic scene in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, out this weekend, is so satisfying. Screw makeovers; this movie hinges on a make-under.
For a comedy sequel starring Seth Rogen and a lubed-up Zac Efron, Neighbors 2 has a lot to say about sexism. The action begins when Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) decide to form their own sorority, Kappa Nu, to escape the confines of school-sanctioned Greek life. The eager freshman are shocked to learn that sororities aren’t allowed to throw parties in their houses, forcing women to hang out at frats, where they are judged on their looks and treated like meat. Indeed Shelby, Beth, and Nora join forces after ditching a “rapey” frat party, at a house that has a “no means yes” banner on display.
Screw that. The Kappas throw parties where they dress up as feminist icons. (Multiple Hillarys attend. Oprah puts beer under everyone's seats.) They blaze, eat junk food, and, yes, terrorize their neighbors, Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne), who just want them to shut up for 30 days so they can sell their in-escrow house and move to the suburbs. The Radners have a toddler daughter — whose favorite toy is her mother's pink dildo — and another on the way.
The lone male allowed to hang with the Kappas is Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), the aggressive frat bro who plagued Kelly and Mac in first movie. Teddy, beautiful as he is, is now floundering in the real world. A brief conversation with the Kappas makes Teddy realize just how misogynist the parties he threw in college were. Newly woke, he decides to advise the sorority. The ladies welcome his institutional knowledge and his hotness, until they decide he’s too old and out-of-touch and ditch him. Teddy, despondent, joins up with Kelly and Mac.
Battling the Mac/Kelly/Teddy offense forces the Kappas into dire financial straits. They need a lucrative solution in order to keep their house. They settle on what seems like their only option: Throw a party that will entice the frat boys, and charge them. So they reinvent themselves. They put on long, straight wigs, tons of makeup, and revealing, skin-tight clothing. They put up a stripper pole in the house, and make a sexy video invitation.
The night of the party everything seems like it’s going according to plan. The ladies are making a lot of money and keeping the adults at bay. But it comes at a price. In throwing the bash, they destroy the feminist safe space they created in their house. The frat guys start spraying water at girls’ breasts, and bring a punch containing roofies. (Nora drinks some and, luckily, remains safe.) The Kappas suddenly find themselves at odds. Witnessing this riff, the grown-ups give up. Kelly offers counsel in the form of Chumbawamba lyrics, and the Kappas realize that their priority should be maintaining the bonds they have formed.
So they give themselves un-makeovers. They take off the wigs and constricting outfits, and embrace their own personal style, hoodies and all. And though the frat guys depart, they are replaced by other attendees: sorority sisters, who love Kappa’s unthreatening atmosphere and want to join. One girl, however, asks if she has to ditch her party attire to be a Kappa member. After all, she likes getting dolled up. Wearing a dress is fine. Kappa Nu is about makes you feel comfortable.
The party continues to rage, this time with the women bouncing around in their socks. It’s a blissfully defiant moment in which women have fun purely for the sake of having fun. Unlike in, say, The House Bunny, men are uninvolved in the Kappas happy ending. None of the women have a getting the guy moment. Sure, Shelby is a virgin at the start of the movie and probably not a virgin at the end, but who she has sex with is a non-issue. The Kappas aren’t asexual — after all, who is when Zac Efron is around? — but they aren’t concerned with finding romantic relationships.
But Neighbors 2’s feminism shouldn’t come as a surprise, even if the movie was written by five guys. (Though the lack of credited women is frustrating, the writers did seek out the female perspective. “We would bring in many women to help us,” Rogen said on Today.) The first Neighbors movie isn’t as blatantly about double standards, but it implicitly rebukes them thanks to Rose Byrne’s performance as Kelly. Kelly is not shafted to the sidelines while her husband deals with the raucous frat. In fact, she balks when Mac suggests she turns into the "nagging" wife in a Kevin James movie. “It’s offensive that I have to be the smart one all the time,” she tells him. “I’m allowed to be just as irresponsible as you.”
In many ways, that's also the code the Kappas live by, so it makes sense when Kelly eventually comes to their aid. These women may be from different generations, but they are of the same ilk: They relish the opportunity to get wild on their terms, and refuse to conform to the stereotype of the "wife" or the "sorority girl."
Kelly's daughters would do well to follow in their footsteps.
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This summer, we're celebrating the biggest movie season of the year with a new series called Blockbust-HER. We'll be looking at everything film-related from the female perspective, interviewing major players in the industry and discussing where Hollywood is doing right by women and where (all too often) it is failing them. And now...let's go to the movies!