Nicholas Stoller’s Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising was released in theaters last week to semi-positive reviews and modest success. The general critical consensus was that the story was largely repeated from the first film, and while it was funny, there was nothing too notably unique about the flick. The story, in case one may not be familiar, involved a pair of thirtysomething parents (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) attempting to attain a certain amount of domestic suburban bliss in the face of a fraternity/sorority opening up shop right next door. Dirty jokes, and drug references ensue. The sequel sends them through a near-identical journey. They’re story is not the interesting one.
The interesting stories in these films come from the central couple’s rivals. In the first Neighbors, the film’s central frat leader (Zac Efron) had a dramatically feasible reason for wanting to continue his hard-drinking lifestyle other than an inability to calm down; he, now in his mid-20s, was definitely aging out of the college Greek system, and feared the encroaching onslaught of adult responsibility. Efron’s character needed to continue to drink heavily and throw ever-wilder frat parties because that’s all his life had, to date, entailed. To cease such habits would mean a dramatic questioning of his own identity. By the end of the film, he had learned to grow up a little bit.
The writers of Neighbors 2, likewise, required a relatable dramatic reason to have the protagonists’ rivals cleave tenaciously to the party lifestyle. What they conceived of was, perhaps unwittingly, one of the more feminist statements you may encounter from within an R-rated college comedy, a genre notoriously known for its casual misogyny.
At the outset of Neighbors 2, Chloë Grace Moretz attempts to pledge at her college’s most popular sorority, even though she is a bit slobby, definitely average, and not the squeaky-clean fashionista that most sorority sisters are depicted as. She and several of her peers (as well as this critic) learned from their sorority mother that – and this is a real statute from within the college Greek system – that sororities are not allowed to throw their own parties. Fraternities are, of course, and sorority sisters are allowed to attend, but actual parties hosted in sorority houses are not allowed.
This rule has many outraged, but they try to operate within it for a night. The new pledges go to a frat party, and it is terrifyingly similar to their worst fears. The boys are all openly and brazenly encouraging the girls to undress, drink, and sleep with them. The bare-faced misogyny is gross and, in their minds, sadly expected. They use the word “rapey” to describe the frat atmosphere. If this is what college parties are to be, Moretz wants nothing to do with it. If you’re in college, dear reader, and the word “party” implies heavy drink, a lot of unwanted pawing, and a greater than 5% chance of unwanted sexual contact, maybe don’t go to that party.
As such, in a fit of youthful feminist outrage, she and her fellow pledges decide to twist off and form their own sorority. One that can indeed host its own parties. Parties that don’t require slutty outfits or wet t-shirt contests. The feminist motivation of their action is clear and obvious to them: Why do the boys get to throw parties and the girls don’t? Moretz and her crew wish for an immediate and easily obtained form of Greek equality, and its their young, outraged feminism causes them to have to stick to their guns when it comes to being wild at night and their drug consumption.
The question, however, immediately rises: Is the right to throw parties and consume copious amounts of marijuana really a right that one should be fighting for? Moretz and her friends looked at the horrors of a frat party – a party where they felt threatened and sexually demeaned – and seemed to say “us too.” This does not seem like feminism, does it? Although it seems like a feminist statement at first, it doesn’t take too much thought to realize that the sorority sisters are fighting for their right to be drunk, unruly, dangerous, dumb, and threatening in their own right (Although, to be fair, the girls never “turn the tables” on boys, and objectify them in the same way, which would just be disgusting).
The right of women to behave as disgracefully is a bit of a contentious point within feminism. The feminist in me bristles when someone like, say Ke$ha, announces that gross songs about her own sexual prowess are merely turning the tables on sexist rappers who sing about their penises. In my mind, both of those things are pretty disgusting. And, to cite the immediate emotional reaction some feminists have, shouldn’t women be smarter than to fall for the same stupid sexual dynamic that has been sold to them by their male pop forebears? Where is the feminism in behaving like a total ass?
But here’s the thing: Behaving like an drunken, high, stupid ass is actually – when one thinks about it – a deeply feminist act. This is the one plot facet that makes Neighbors 2 stand out. The drunken party girls are, indeed, enacting more than just a reclaimed right to party. They are taking back something human and fundamental: The right to behave badly.
Think about it: When a fraternity parties, they are – at least within the context of Neighbors 2 – living withing a sexist milieu, but they are also experiencing something vital: The opportunity to make mistakes. Frat boys may behave like asses, but sometimes one must have like an ass to learn important life lessons. Sure, the frat party may get you laid from time to time, but after a while, you might eventually discover that you’ve been treating women very poorly. You had to make that social mistake to grow as a human being. And sometimes, when it comes to be an 18-year-old kid who has left home for the first time, you have to put yourself in a position where you’ll fuck up. Because only by fucking up will you learn from your mistakes.
Young women are rarely encouraged to do this. Young women – and, yes, this still exists, as revealed by the no-party rule applied to sororities – are socially encouraged to be demure, well-dressed, and well-behaved. If they do express sexuality, its solely for the benefit of a horny teenage boy. Sororities, then – again, within the context of Neighbors 2 – are meant to be the masturbation extension for a fraternity. The girls themselves aren’t allowed to behave badly, unless it is as an extended help function for a frat brother.
Yes, we should all behave well. But women should have the right to behave as badly as they want to. They should be allowed to throw parties, cause property damage, and make complete fools of themselves. If frat brothers are allowed to place themselves within a system where they can make mistakes – and grown from their mistakes – then women should too.
Again, bad behavior is not necessarily to be encouraged – being a drunk asshole is still being a drunk asshole. But the right to be a drunk asshole is indeed, as argued by Neighbors 2, something to be held and cherished. Girls should be allowed to make mistakes. Make a fool of yourself. It’s your right.
Witney Seibold has been a film critic for nearly 20 years, and is currently the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast on CraveOnline. He also co-hosts the TV podcast Canceled Too Soon. You can contact him on Twitter at @WitneySeibold.