Monday, May 23, 2016

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising - A Terribly Not Funny Movie

 My wife and I made a mistake. We went to see “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” We did this on the second day the movie was out, after reading the rave review it received from Katie Walsh, of the Tribune News Service (Sacramento Bee, May 20), who gave the film the maximum four stars.

I found the movie rarely funny, and always in catastrophically bad taste. The opening sets the tone, when Seth Rogen and his wife Rose Byrne are in bed, attempting to make love, and she barfs all over his face. This is toilet humor, or what the French call pipi-caca humor. I have never found jokes about vomiting, farting, pissing or diarrhea funny, not even when I was eight years old.

When reviewing a movie like this, the safe thing is to be mildly positive or mildly negative about it: If you react knee-jerk negatively, this brands you as a fuddy-duddy, a conservative, a prude, out-of-touch, and above all the worst insult slung at people with abandon in this movie itself: OLD; yuck! If you praise such a movie...well then, you are plain wrong. But I am not going to play it safe. I’ll simply say that this is a bad movie, period.

Admittedly, we laughed twice: When the protagonists argued about the spelling of S-O-R-O-R-I-T-Y, and when they used an airbag to blow open a garage door. Also, the “gay thing” was handled in sort of a refreshing way. We didn’t walk out. Admittedly, we have seen worse. And maybe we should have seen the prequel, two years ago, to understand the context. Still, a bad movie.

It never ceases to amaze me that when it comes to the college experience, Hollywood and popular culture don’t have a clue. They hardly EVER get it right. Their depictions of college life bear very little resemblance with reality, whether it is life at an elite university attended by the pampered children of 1%-ers, or mass public universities where thousands of students valiantly juggle a full-time or a part-time academic schedule and a job.

I spent a lifetime living in that subculture, first as an undergrad, then in grad school, then as a faculty member. I was a student and a professor at fancy private universities and at mass public institutions. I experienced “Greek life” in full. I am a card-carrying Phi Sig. Yes, there was the partying, the binge drinking, the moronic, obscenity-laced frat house life, the sex, the vandalism. I know all about the foul-mouthed and rambunctious animal-house environment. I lived in it. Check out chapter twenty-eight of my autobiography at

Yes, there was some misogyny, but also considerable respect for women. Drugs? Very little, yet. Mostly a little bit of marijuana. No one had ever heard of “roofies” or other date-rape drugs. Tom Wolfe’s I am Charlotte Simmons (2004) is a reasonably realistic and humorous description of some of the subculture and its pathologies, including Greek life.

But the college life presented in movies such as Neighbors 2 and by Hollywood in general is unrecognizable. There is not one single reminder that college is first and foremost a competitive pressure-cooker in which EVERYTHING depends on how well you do, and you know it. What is at stake is nothing less than the rest of your entire life. What you do in college determines whether or not you become a flunky or have an adequate life. You spend night after night cramming. You do whatever is in your power to make it academically. Yes, you also party, but that is NOT your first priority.

Of course, this is not the stuff of which entertaining movies are made. But please - could Hollywood just once in a blue moon remind us that colleges are EDUCATIONAL institutions?

The way Neighbors 2 covers parenting is equally absurd. Towards the end Seth Rogen and his wife Rose Byrne cuddle in their bed with their three-year old daughter. They play peek-a-boo, and the mother says things like “I love you” and “hi cutie, how are you?” Sorry Hollywood, but when you pick up your baby and cuddle with her, you don’t ask “how are you?”

I find it shocking that Katie Walsh and the Tribune News Service give this film four stars. The movie is passed off as “progressive.” It is seen as progressive because it offers a female version of the classic “Animal House.” Because its main characters are redressing a sexist injustice, namely the fact that sororities, unlike fraternities, are not allowed to hold parties.

This has nothing to do with feminism. Barfing on your spouse’s face, handing dildos to three-year olds, cacophagy, tossing blood-drenched tampons (and specifying that the blood in genuinely vaginal) - these are marks of enlightenment?
© Tom Kando 2016
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