In some Hollywood exec’s fantasy, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is a feminist manifesto. It takes the premise of the first film — Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as parents warring against a fraternity — and turns it around to acknowledge that the world now belongs to empowered sorority women. The enemy is now frat-bro sexism, and the women of the film fight it by reminding us in basically every scene that chicks can party like dudes, too. Chicks like weed! They objectify men! This is the women’s movement!
Here’s what female empowerment looks like in this movie: having the ability to chug beers like the boys and avoid being date-raped at the same time. Never mind that the sisters of Kappa Nu have literally no concept of personal finances. (Rather than widely accepted monetary units, sorority house rent is understood by “how many buckets of money do we need to avoid eviction?” Yeah! Women’s lib!) They never go to class. Real empowerment, explains Neighbors 2, is being able to throw an all-female Feminist Icon party and dress up like any version of Hillary Clinton that you want to.
Don’t be fooled: Swapping d-ck jokes for blood-soaked-tampon humor does not a progressive movie make. This is faux-woke. It’s the Canal Street Birkin bag of female empowerment. It’s the Designer Imposters fragrance of feminism. Neighbors 2 plays Mad Libs with a bunch of Jezebel headlines and tries to pass it off as a subversive achievement. Filling in the broad strokes is enough for everyone involved to pat themselves on the back and say, “We did something for the women!” without figuring out how to really make a big-budget feminist summer comedy. (Here’s a start: Hire a female writer full time.)
Is anyone still surprised to discover that women like gross-out jokes just as much as the next guy? Bridesmaids already taught us that; it’s not novel anymore. And it’s insulting to assume that name-checking a few feminist issues means you are somehow making a progressive statement. Whatever a genuinely woke, female-driven comedy looks like, it certainly won’t resemble the climactic scene of Neighbors 2, in which our heroes are forced to dress in traditionally “slutty” party garb to raise money for their doomed house. “This isn’t what I signed up for,” one Kappa Nu sister yells. “I look like Nicki Minaj!” Any true feminist would know that you never throw shade at Nicki. Neighbors 2 is pickle juice, and we refuse to drink it.
This piece originally appeared in the May 23, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.