Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising and The Meddler

Nicholas Stoller's Neighbors was a successful summer comedy back in 2014. But despite the film's strong box office totals and well reception, it hardly felt like a starting point for a franchise. Apparently Stoller and his starring talent, Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne and Zac Efron, believed differently. All return for the newly released sequel, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, and the film shockingly surpasses tempered expectations.

After finally ridding themselves of their hellish fraternity of neighbors, parents Mac and Kelly (Rogen and Byrne) are trying desperately to sell their home before baby number two arrives. However, once a set of buyers put a strong offer on the house, the couple needs to withstand a 30 day inspection period before it's officially sold. Suddenly, a budding new sorority dead set on partying like crazy moves in right next door, putting the entire transaction in jeopardy. Therefore, Mac and Kelly must join forces with an old friend, Teddy (Efron), in order remove their latest lousy neighbors.

Structurally, Neighbors 2 is pretty run of the mill and exactly what you'd expect. Yet, where the film truly sets itself apart is in its clever writing that has plenty to say about modern day sexism and societal double standards. Its metaphors and reflective humor provides an added level of creativity that solidifies Neighbors 2 as a rare, welcomed sequel. The film's trio of stars all deliver acceptable performances that actually develop the characters further, rather than relying on recycled jokes from its predecessor. Neighbors 2 is far from a comedy classic, but it's still a strong follow-up feature that holds up all on its own.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Another comedy is making its theatrical rounds, but Lorene Scafaria's The Meddler is of the indie variety. As an industry screenwriter and the director of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Scafaria's sophomoric effort began with a modest premiere on the festival circuit. And in support of the general critical consensus, The Meddler does a fine job of telling a familiar story.

Susan Sarandon stars as Marnie, a widow who's still grieving over the loss of her late husband. And as a method of coping, the elder woman constantly pries into the personal life of her daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne), and whoever else will listen to her. But as Lori begins to distance herself from her overbearing mother, Marnie becomes entangled in the lives of a new set of people, including a retired police officer (J.K. Simmons), who help her get past her husband's death.

Despite The Meddler's common central storyline, the film's natural humor and honest characters make for an enjoying ride. Susan Sarandon is an absolute marvel in the leading role and completely steals the show. The subtle intricacies of her performance are a refreshing reminder of Sarandon's immense talent. You'll encounter moments where Marnie will irk you to death, and others where she's melt you with her uplifting charm. It's this wide spectrum that helps make the film such a worthwhile journey. And along with Sarandon, co-stars Rose Byrne and recent Academy Award winner, J.K. Simmons (Whiplash), also shine in their supporting roles. The Meddler is clearly an indie, sprinkled with its artistic flair and simple production. Yet, you'll hardly notice as Sarandon draws you into her complex world, one that you'll thankful you experienced.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

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