Saturday, May 21, 2016

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Nicholas Stoller, 2016

If it'd still be necessary to proof that Judd Apatow's a genuin auteur, the Neighbors films would do the trick. Because while all the ingredients seem to be there - Seth Rogen, an Apatow trained director (arguably the best one), weird cameos, a generous amount of male (in this one also female) bonding, traditional romance / family life as plot guideline, an eye for improvisation, an interest in world building through detail, allegedly throwaway yet relaxed and therefore somehow genuine liberal ideology - Apatow himself isn't involved, and indeed the films feel completely different.

This shows that the Apatow touch doesn't rely on any of these ingredients. Rather, it manifests itself in the organic and unassuming way everything is put together. In the Neighbors films, nothing feels organic. Despite its simplicity, the premise of the neighborhood fight feels terribly forced in both films, maybe also because Stoller makes almost no effort to situate the fighting households in a larger community. The characters have to remind one another all the time why they have to act the way they do. Indeed, like athletes, they constantly have to motivate themselves and everyone around them to keep on going. Otherwise they'd just hang around the set like empty sacks. There's no daily life, no routine to fall back to. (Also, the films at times are really ugly, but that's just digital cinema... only some action scenes are noticeably worse than in similar films.)

That being said, the films still work more often than not. Especially this one. While the first film felt like a transitional film for Stoller, here it seems like he's slowly coming into his own as a brash, in your face director of synthetic comedy who thrives on short bursts of irreverent satire instead of long, meandering dialogue. And he knows how to make use of actors, even (or maybe especially) in small roles. Rose Byrne hasn't enough scenes this time around, though. But Rogen, who's just one step away from playing a sitcom dad by now, is great, Efron's even better and the sorority girls are much more interesting than the supporting cast of the first film.

(The politics? I don't know. There really is a progressive vibe, especially because the film spends a lot of energy on making the sorority party scenes work. Still, like all products of popular culture, it's shot through with all kinds of contradictory impulses. For example it shies away from the rather obvious question whether the scene at the frat party early in Neighbors 2 mean that in the first film we were supposed to enjoy just those "rapey good times", the second film quite credibly opposes?)

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