There is a moment early on in Bad Neighbours 2 (aka Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising in the US) when Dave Franco’s character Pete, a frat brother a few years out of college, is proposed to by his boyfriend at a poker game with his other frat bros, and accepts. As the two young lovers embrace, their three other bros jump up and down in delight, chanting “USA! USA! USA!” It is a moment of delight and defiance: this is modern America as we in Hollywood declare it, the moment seems to be saying, and if you don’t like it, f**k off. Later, in the end credits, it will be revealed that the film was shot in Georgia, which nearly lost hundreds of millions of dollars in film production earlier this year by proposing measures that, in practice, were homophobic. How delightful to imagine the legislators of Georgia watching this film and seeing good, clean frat boys celebrating the engagement between a couple of their own in such patriotic fashion.
One of those celebrating bros is Teddy, and he’s played, brilliantly, by Zac Efron, who has evolved not only into a terrific comedic performer but also a post-modern archetype: he is, at least in this movie, playing on two levels simultaneously, both as Teddy and as Zac Efron, gorgeous and ripped sex symbol, completely self-aware and yet completely committed to the surface performance. Thus we have him, at various times, ripping off his shirt for no reason, other than the reason we all actually know: he looks good with his shirt off and we want to see that.
The other major performance this time around, in a movie as delightful and silly – indeed, much more silly – than its similarly delightful predecessor, comes from Chloë Grace Moretz as Shelby, a freshman at Teddy’s old college who, with a couple of friends, decides to start her own sorority in Teddy’s old frat house, thus once again causing problems for their “adult” neighbours Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne). Moretz, for me, has either been badly used or not on game in her past few pictures, but she’s excellent here, to the extent that maybe silly comedy is her thing.
It’s certainly Rose Byrne’s thing. Of the original film, I wrote, “Byrne again proves herself the funniest of the new batch of Hollywood comedy queens.” She doesn’t get to prove herself so much this time around – she and Rogan are side characters, letting the young ones do the heavy lifting, which includes pratfalls, spit-takes and all manner of (successful) physical comedy amongst the film’s rapid-fire dialogue. Like everything in this movie, it’s touching: Aw, sweetie, let the kids have a go! I laughed a lot during this genial, high-spirited, extremely good-natured romp, and at the end I noticed I was wearing a massive smile. These characters have been really well nurtured, and if director Nicholas Stoller wants to bring us number 3, I say, bring it on.