THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!
By: Akram Shaban
In this review, I’m going to describe why I liked Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising by analyzing a scene of it. Most of you will think I’m giving it too much credit, which is true. But it’s interesting nonetheless. In case you’re wondering, spoiler alert. Also, in case you’re wondering, I care as little about spoilers as I care about Donald Trump’s views on his own level of intelligence.
Additionally, to piss off Reddit, I will admit that I haven’t seen the first one.
The scene takes place at a restaurant with two of the main characters and two side characters. The main characters are Mac Radner (Seth Rogen), and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne). The other two are a married couple who go by Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo). In this approximately one minute scene, precisely 6 things happen in 15 seconds. I’m going by my memory here, but who cares. I’m going to talk about the 6 things. This isn’t actually anything remarkable. You can tune out right now and instead go read this highly pretentious review of Captain America: Civil War.
But if you stayed, then we’re homies. The 6 things make up a sexist joke that is made among the quartet. Now sexism is actually a huge theme in the movie. There are plenty of sexist jokes that are placed in it. But what’s interesting is that they’re not sexist for the sake of sexism. Instead, they are there to demonstrate how ridiculous the jokes actually are. It also addresses how people react to the jokes. Most times, a sexist joke will be followed by another character commenting on the social implications of its meaning. I’ll admit, the movie gets quite preachy at moments, but only when it’s trying to be serious. The comedy itself is funnier than it is social-justice-warrior-esque. In fact, the movie subtly makes fun of SJW’s. But the bit I’m interested in is how it mocks everyone, including the critics of SJW’s.
The first of the 6 things is Paula making a sexist remark about men. (2) This prompts Mac to confront her hypocrisy, as she had just criticized sexism earlier in the scene. (3) She responds by asserting that sexism is acceptable as long as it is only targeted towards men. (4) Mac objects to this double standard and attempts to get his wife to support him. (5) Jimmy defends his gender and claims to be treated unfairly. He attempts to initiate a fist bump with Mac as he says “men’s rights, am I right?” (6) Mac frowns dismissively and shakes his head, rejecting the fist-bump proposition.
By making the joke, Paula is sparking a debate about the nature of equal treatment, and how to introduce the concept of unique experience. If I may make the controversial claim that men and women generally go through different experiences in life… then I will. Let’s also give my ignorance of literally everything the benefit of the doubt, and say that for a long period of time, there was and still is inequality between both genders. Additionally, let’s take a leap of faith so big that even Ezio in his prime would hesitate to make, and say that one gender is ever so slightly more privileged than the other. Then it would make sense that the same exact treatment of both genders wouldn’t necessarily result in equality. It’s not necessarily about accommodating the disadvantaged. It is more about eliminating the restrictions imposed on one group of people, and the power the other group exploits. In other words, the unique experiences of both parties need to be taken into account.
Mac thinks that it is somewhat ironic of an anti-sexist like Paula to be making that sort of joke. This notion resembles the claim that black people are allowed to be be racist towards white people. Those arguments are growing increasingly popular. Racism is about the systemic abuse of power. There’s even a formula: prejudice + power = racism. So if you lack power, but possess prejudice, you’re not racist. Paula might be part of the camp that applies that formula to the struggle of women. It’s not sexism if they’re not in power.
So far the scene addresses the element of experience as something that can take two different paths. There is the implied path that experience is necessary for proper accommodation and the elimination of obstacles altogether. There is also the path that justifies prejudice as part of the permanent and inevitable experiences of people. Needless to say, if there wasn’t any inequality, then experiences wouldn’t matter in that context. Skin color wouldn’t be significant in the way that it is today, and the same applies to gender, sexual orientation and all the other things you’ll find listed in a progressive liberal bill of rights.
But Mac’s contentions also address crucial themes in the debate. I don’t doubt that Mac would agree with the first “experience path.” The other path, however, scares him. But then again, what does Mac have to worry about? Maybe Paula is right. The “white man” has nothing to lose, so he shouldn’t be affected by racist or sexist jokes made be powerless people. Powerless people aren’t in a position to infringe upon rights. But there is a difference between hating your oppressor, and unfairly generalizing, according to Mac. That’s what he worries about; the unprivileged person isn’t excused of unfairly generalizing about people. But he’s likely wrong to think that. As the oppressor, he doesn’t get to argue that point. Perhaps Paula is attempting to force his hand. He must attest to his gender’s inherited crimes.
Finally, the men’s rights perspective is literally dismissed, as it is introduced through Jimmy. This one is simple: the party accused of oppression tries to flip the situation and brand itself as one that is as oppressed as the accuser. “Men have right’s too” is the common assertion. It is similar to the Twitter hashtag backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement. #alllivesmatter tried to discredit the original hashtag as racist. They made it out to imply “only black lives matter,” when the actual implication was “black lives matter, too” or maybe “black lives actually matter.” “All lives matter” was a racist response to make #blacklivesmatter seem racist despite its true, non-prejudiced, message.
The most important part of Jimmy’s contribution is the attention it brings to the imbalance of power. Paula’s camp is unapologetic about its prejudice. She reminds people like Mac that even well-intentioned people reap the benefits of their privilege. They could move somewhere else, or call for help, and pretty much do whatever. Mac’s feelings are hurt but it’s nothing compared to the pain suffered by the disadvantaged, and unprivileged. And as for “unfairly generalizing,” Paula doesn’t care. It isn’t unfair and she isn’t harming or oppressing him.
This “review” (aka an excuse to incoherently ramble) covered a huge theme in the movie that others may not know what to make of. All I know is that I very much appreciated the satire and will grant Neighbors 2 the generous score of a B- (7.0/10).