Film

Against All Odds, ‘Bad Neighbours 2’ Is About Feminism And The Death Of The Dudebro

Seth Rogen really has learned a few things.

Sometime between hearing people talk about women being plants you have to grow and then fuck and seeing Jonah Hill get raped by a demon for lols, I realised there are a few things you have to accept before going into any Seth Rogen movie.

First of all, despite there often being hilarious female characters, about 95 percent of the screen time will be taken by men; specifically the type of men who get stoned all day and use the word ‘gay’ as a punchline. Also, there are gonna be dicks. Dicks will be scrawled on all surfaces, flopped out at any given moment, and will occasionally be literally swinging from the sky signalling the death of civilisation as we know it. And look, that’s fine. At its best this breed of gross-out stoner flick is dumb fun, at its worst it’s a problematic fave. We all have ’em.

But this does mean I was wildly underprepared for what came from Bad Neighbours 2, the sequel of the funny but forgettable 2014 comedy in which Zac Efron bros out and creates hijinks in a turf war between suburban young parents Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne. Growing and learning in the same way as its characters, all anxious in moments of generational transition, Bad Neighbours 2 takes a deliberate shift in focus to give women a legitimate voice, include a realistic and respectful gay relationship and intensely focus the laughs at the dudebros it once placed front-and-centre.

Does that make it a great film? Not necessarily. But, as its characters at one point explicitly attest, it sure feels good to see a bunch of bloody tampons flying around in place of the usual dicks and balls.

SURPRISE, BROS! THE FEMINISTS ARE HERE

The premise of Bad Neighbours 2 is about what you’d expect. A couple of years after Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) and his Delta Psi brothers have moved out of their frat house, Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) have found history repeating itself with rowdy new neighbours as they try to finalise the sale of their home. Plot twist: this time, they’re fighting ladies!

What that trailer featuring screaming bikini-clad teens and stripper poles doesn’t tell you is the backstory of the women themselves. The sorority which takes over the house is started by laid-back outcasts Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Elizabeth Feldstein) as a means to escape both the pressures to perform a certain type of “pretty” femininity and the archaic system which won’t let them throw parties like the guys. They all meet at a frat party which is very matter-of-factly described as “rapey”.

Considering those parties they’re talking about were exactly what was featured in the original film, this is a fairly huge about-face. The party bros who were once ribbed as a bit stupid or lazy are now shown through the eyes of young women and revealed as a genuine and unfunny problem; they make them feel unsafe. And, while that may not sound revolutionary — we’re a year on from The Hunting Ground and engaged in a long-overdue conversation about campus sexual assault — it is rare. This new perspective is something the filmmakers deliberately worked towards.

In a recent profile in New York Magazine, it was revealed that Rose Byrne had to “really push” director Nicholas Stoller to not be cast as a Nagging Wife in the original Bad Neighbours. “She pointed out that it was always the woman trying to stop the man from doing what he wanted to be doing,” said her co-star, Rogen. “These subtle sort of slights of women are the things you have to be careful about,” Byrne explained. This then led to the all-male creative team (Stoller, Rogen, Evan Goldberg and co.) seeking outside help and hiring a team of female writers to work alongside them on the script for the sequel.

This shows. Between Seth Rogen arguing his way out of being called “Mr White Man” by an irate college dean (the always perfect Lisa Kudrow) and Zac Efron learning about period blood, Bad Neighbours 2 is full of Guys Figuring Stuff Out. At times these clumsy overt explanations — shoutout to the “maybe we just have to live in a sexist world” talk towards the tail-end of the film — can come at the expense of the comedy and there’s definitely a case to be made that the young women aren’t given enough to work with. That would bother me more if Rose Byrne wasn’t there spewing on people’s faces and blurting lines like “black cock” in front of Broad City‘s Abbi Jacobson.

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Our Rose.

Gay Panic And The Tragicomic Dudebro

That being said, the real comedic powerhouse in this film is Zac Efron. Since leaving college, Teddy has been cut adrift from everything which once defined him (except his looks, which he uses to incredible effect). His “brothers” have moved on to successful jobs or serious relationships. His party bro vibes are now seen as immature and his reluctance to let go of the past is catapulting him into a deep quarter-life crisis. It’s an old story, but Efron’s naive tragicomic performance makes it incredible endearing (my favourite scene in this movie is legitimately of Zac Efron failing to boil an egg).

The character’s bravado and outrageous persistence in the first film was funny, but the laughs in the sequel are more complex and instead come from what happens when you strip all that away.

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At one point he also literally strips, but it’s sadder than you think.

Beyond simply learning about The Feminism, the film’s male characters are given interesting space to grow like this — particularly when it comes to relationships with other men. The catalyst for much of Teddy’s crisis, for instance, comes when his best friend Pete (Dave Franco) gets engaged to a man. This isn’t a shock because of his friend’s sexuality (Teddy and his buds even help with the proposal!), but rather the fact that it means he’s now getting booted out of his house.

This same-sex relationship — with a Franco, no less! — is used as an integral part of the plot and is never once exploited for an uncomfortable #nohomo joke. This shouldn’t be a big deal, but for a Rogen/Goldberg production (which regularly use gay sex as a punchline), it’s enormous. At one point Mac’s mild anxiety around male intimacy is even diffused on-screen as Teddy explicitly asks for a hug because he “needs to feel valued”. The laugh isn’t on Teddy’s over-sentimentality; instead it’s on Mac’s initial reluctance. The hug is good! They feel better! It’s silly guys don’t do it more!

This is a treatment which seems very deliberate from Rogen. This week, on the press tour for the new film, he casually discussed what he now sees as the “blatant homophobia” of some of his previous work like Superbad (2007). “Some things which are appropriate, or seemed appropriate at the time, you look back on and think ‘I shouldn’t have done that’.” He claims it’s all about seeing things through “the lens of new eras and new social consciousnesses”.

And ultimately, that’s what Bad Neighbours 2 is about. It’s the same gross-out gags and outrageous set pieces, but this time, it’s not just the dudebros who are invited to the party.

Bad Neighbours 2 is in cinemas now.