After the execrable filth that was Dirty Grandpa, Zac Efron – an actor with enough movie star wattage to light up an entire city – needed redemption. Fortunately, for him as much as us, he’s gone and found it in a New Bromantic comedy sequel to the unexpectedly delightful Bad Neighbours. The films are attuned and sensitive to social and cultural issues. In an early dinner scene argument between spouses, Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) tries to make a stand for the guys, ruefully quipping “men’s rights”, the kind of nonsense usually followed up with a Neanderthal fist bump.
Mac (Seth Rogen) not only leaves Jimmy metaphorically hanging, he unambiguously tells his buddy to “fuck off”. That sort of talk isn’t welcome. Characters, too, are nicely reworked stereotypes. Teddy (Efron) might be a ridiculously handsome King of the Bros and continuing to dine out on past frat house glories, but he’s also a wounded individual with abandonment issues. He just wants to be wanted by those around him. Mac and Kelly (Rose Byrne) could have been shrill and vindictive misery monsters, ground down by growing up, but they have a relationship which feels authentic and relatable to all those in their thirties hovering on the cusp of mid-life. The spark of youth and rebellion still burns within them like a pilot light. He likes his marijuana and she has a dildo. Neither of these things is an issue (beyond the dildo becoming their toddler daughter’s favourite toy, which has been dressed up in a pink princess outfit).
Kelly could have been written as a standard-issue housewife character side-lined when the bros get bro-ing, but she emerged as a secret weapon and a vital component to the success of the picture. Byrne, currently one of the best comedic talents around, gleefully stole the first movie, as if by sheer force of personality alone. But it was always written so. Bad Neighbours 2 is a smart and worthy continuation of this comedic battle of the age-groups with a cracking takedown of “super rape-y” frat boy culture, where every themed party is ‘bros and hoes’, and makes a stand for female empowerment, all the while serving up belly laughs, rehashed-but-still-brilliant airbag gags and feminist-inspired gross-out acts. Chloë Grace Moretz is a top addition to the cast, too, as the classic dorky kid who successfully finds her voice.
That Shelby’s voice is that of a foul-mouthed firebrand leader rallying against blatantly sexist American campus culture, which forbids sororities from hosting their own parties, gives her a thematically poignant narrative arc and makes her aims extremely likeable, even when she’s behaving antagonistically towards her neighbours. The Beastie Boys penned (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!) as a piece of satirical pop rock and were subsequently aggrieved when the very people it took aim at proclaimed it as their own. Yet it’s an anthem and adage that rings true nonetheless. As Mac tells Kelly in a moment of grumpy clarity: “We’ve got to do what all adults do: stop young people from having fun.”
Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn