A surprisingly knowledgeable and at times rather progressive comedy
It started with a tweet. On Thursday evening movie magazine Little White Lies tweeted about its review for Bad Neighbours 2. The review as written by Elena Lazic with the tweet reading ‘I went long on the unexpectedly progressive, feminist and funny Bad Neighbours 2’. Now, as anyone who knows me, that’s the kind of click-bait that gets me hooked into reading. The review itself is wonderfully written – very reflective and articulate. Hopefully this review lives up to the one that inspired the film-watching and subsequent review! Post-watching I firmly agree with Miss Lazic’s review – for Bad Neighbours 2 is full of surprises. Most of them good and approvingly well-informed of gender politics.
Mac Radner (Seth Rogen) and his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) are expecting their second daughter so decide to put their house on the market and move into the suburbs. A married couple with a young child place an offer putting the property into escrow – for the next 30 days the potential buyers can drop in at any time and have any inspections they wish undertaken before they confirm their buying of the property. For the next 30 days Mac and Kelly need for everything to stay the same, no big changes which will scare off the buyers. What’s more than unfortunate is that their new neighbours move in on day 1 of 30 – and their neighbours are the college’s newest sorority. Kappa Nu has been newly founded by Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein). The trio united and formed the new sorority as they disagree with sexist legislation that prevents the existing sororities form having parties and were disgusted by the sexist antics of the fraternity party they attended. War is soon declared between the ‘old’ couple and the sorority girls, with ex-Frat boy Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) leading the girls into battle.
In the mid 2000s the term ‘Frat Pack’ was coined to describe a group of Hollywood actors – this group included Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Jack Black, Vince Vaughn etc.Then came the “Apatow Chapter” (named after writer/director/producer Judd Apatow) which Bad Neighbours 2 lead actor Seth Rogen was a part of. The majority of the films generated from these unholy alliances could not/should not be labelled as displaying any feminist traits. In fact one would be hard-pressed to name just one of these films that featured a single positive representation of women. That’s part of the surprise that comes from watching Bad Neighbours 2.
Many of the early parts of the film, and intermittently throughout, discuss modern issues of equality in an outstandingly sympathetic and understanding manner. The double standards of the rules about sororities not having parties is not actually fictionalised by the film – it’s not a actual law but it is a national mandate decided by those who govern the nation’s leading sororities (read this excellent Washington Post article for further insight). This film appears to be Hollywood’s attempt to address the issue and it does so rather well. The female trios decision to form their own society in which they can go against the system is reinforced when they attend a Frat party – a party in which they see sexist treatment of women being accepted as a norm with an atmosphere akin to that of a hunting ground with men stalking what they view as walking vaginas. It’s a cleverly written scene which is nowhere near as heavily-handed written as it could have been.
The issue soon takes the backseat for the battle between the two generations/neighbours – during which very little that is new or of much interest. But what does remain on screen are portrayals of women who have a certain spark, a fight within them, that most Hollywood comedies assigns to its male characters. Ordinally the female figures on the screen are resigned to being love interests or purveyors of gratuitous nudity. As annoying as Shelby gets, and she does get pretty annoying, she remains a character who is female, who is interesting and possesses some semblance of a personality. It is scary to reflect on how rarely such a female figure makes it onto the big screen. Bryne is also given a role that is rather atypical for Frat Pack movies – a wife who is not presented as some sort of shrieking harpy. She appears to be as fun-loving as her husband and they comes across as equals in their relationship – they are proper partners in crime.
Aside from the ensuing pontification on equality, I did release a fair few chuckles watching this film. Some of Efron’s speeches were delightful, his dancing rather exquisite and his slapstick guffaw-inducing. At only 92 minutes long the film is a more than amusing way to while away an afternoon or evening. Plus the more conversations it stirs up about portrayals of gender the better!