Pitch Perfect will always hold a special place in my heart. It proves that something so terribly marketed can overcome even the lowest of expectations. It came across as a mashup between Stomp the Yard and Glee. I wouldn’t be wrong in thinking this as for the most part it is, but Kay Cannon’s (30 Rock; New Girl) incredibly slick script and Jason Moore’s (Dawson’s Creek; One Tree Hill) keen direction pulled together one of the most entertaining movies of 2012, in my opinion. Pitch Perfect 2 delivers a few good surprises, but comes off slightly disjointed within a familiar routine. Thankfully the film maintains the franchise’s quick-witted dialogue and provides exciting new performances with its delightful cast.
Comedy sequels are a tricky business to approach. Most have a hard time breaking away from a formula that worked well to introduce main characters and never much more beyond the recognizable. Take The Hangover for example, an unexpected hit that featured a bunch of bros on a wacky adventure in Las Vegas. Enter The Hangover: Part 2, where the same dude bros encounter similar shenanigans and learned lessons, this time in Bangkok; repeating the same shtick felt tired despite its exotic location. Pitch Perfect 2 falls close to reaching this level of complacency, however it stays humble in its satire and pulls in some fresh new faces to shake things up.
We meet the Bellas three years and three victorious National Championships later. Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick) and her ragtag group of a cappella “sisters” have reached the pinnacle of success as they enter their senior year at Barden University in Georgia. Unfortunately after an embarrassing incident broadcasted to the entire world, the Bellas must pick themselves back up again in order to reinstate their position at the top. But they’ll have to go through the European team, Das Sound Machine from Germany, at the World Championships in order to do so.
It’s all very Rocky IV-esque with a smaller sense of patriotism and more focus on character self-discovery. Although the stakes are as high as they could be for competitive a cappella, there’s less urgency in the narrative because there are no qualifier rounds for the Bellas to participate in. They just have to show up to Copenhagen, Denmark to compete at the World Championships, that’s it. The singular thing guiding the movie to its climax is the fact that we need to end up there, not because the events that take place throughout help us find our way in a cohesive manner. So throughout the film we bide our time with a hilarious but unnecessary riff-off and repetitive training montages until the Bellas fly across the pond for the big showdown.
The first Pitch Perfect follows Beca’s journey into becoming a human being and opening up to those closest to her, thanks in part by the wonders of a cappella of course. But aside from the Bellas’ mission to crush the amusingly intense members of Das Sound Machine, played wonderfully by Flula Borg as Pieter Krämer and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as Kommissar, there isn’t any one-plot thread to keep our attention on. Beca lands herself in a internship at a recording studio, though she can’t find her sound as graduation draws near; Chloe (Brittany Snow) is pulling a Van Wilder because she’s afraid of life after the Bellas; a freshman Bella legacy, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), is an ambitiously timid songwriter; and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) is struggling with a secretive affair with Bumper (Adam DeVine).
The rest of the Barden Bellas continue to embrace their given stereotypes, acting as filler characters who prove mostly useless other than to support and form the rest of the group. It’s disappointing because they each served a purpose or had a fun character moment in Pitch Perfect. Even the Treblemakers, including Jesse (Skylar Astin), who merely shows up as the supportive boyfriend to Beca, are sidelined to make way for everything else. Strangely, Benji (Ben Platt) has a larger role than Jesse in this movie as he develops a crush on Emily. Jesse offers a grounded, outsider’s perspective for Beca’s life in the first film, but here she is only fed noise from everyone else that leads up to a petty conflict that is resolved forcefully at a team building retreat of all places.
As Elizabeth Banks’ directorial debut, Pitch Perfect 2 doesn’t flow as organically as the first. Packed with an abundance themes commenting on the state of the music industry, growing up, being true to yourself, and finding your own voice, there are too many directions the movie wants to take and never commits to bringing a more thoughtful voice to any theme in particular. Regardless, Pitch Perfect 2 is funnier than the original with easily clocking in a higher number of chuckles per minute. Not as many jokes build up to a calculating punchline, but the humor is still strong, specifically between the snarky judges played by Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins. Banks captures the hilarity of the script through excellent comedic timing from each actor. And equipped with a heaping arsenal of new songs at her disposal, Banks shows no mercy in dispatching well constructed and highly impressive a cappella performances by the various groups.
For loyal fans, there are some minor callbacks from the first film, but good one-liners such as “treble-boned” or “I can see your toner through those jeans” are few and far between to walk away to use in your everyday vocabulary. Be that as it may, they do tone down the use of “aca-insert word,” which is nice. There is one touching scene amongst the Bellas around a camp fire in this sequel, and as sweet as it is, Pitch Perfect has more memorable, value added moments for the characters and the story, such as Jesse making “faces” with album covers or any reference to The Breakfast Club. I guess you could say I’m a Jesse apologist.
Meeting the additional members of the cast is a treat to behold. Keegan-Michael Key steals every scene as Beca’s boss at the recording studio and Katey Segal is charming and personable as Emily’s mom. David Cross is cast as the most unforgettable new face as the riff-off host. Emily is an adorable inclusion for the Bellas thanks to Steinfeld’s performance, but her character has little development and is only defined by her interest in writing music. A quirky side of her personality peeks through when she’s first introduced to the Bellas, sadly it never appears again. And then Das Sound Machine are fantastic any time they show up on screen. The chemistry between the leaders of DSM and Anna Kendrick is absolutely lovely. My one wish, though, is that they explored further into the depths of competitive a cappella seeing that they would be competing in the World Championships. We watch other national champions from Canada (Pentatonix), the Philippines (The Filharmonic), and India (Penn Masala) among others performing at the Worlds in a montage, but that’s the extent of their involvement.
Without the element of surprise, Pitch Perfect 2 does a swell job in matching the degree entertainment value I expected. Regrettably this feature doesn’t try hard to evolve the characters, so don’t expect them to come across any more compelling. Risk is averted in favor of what’s comfortable, in fact it reads like an episode of Glee – comparatively it mirrors the second season’s first 16 episodes. Given tighter direction, the half-baked ideas sprinkled throughout the film could have matured into a superior, fulfilling climax for Beca rather than the way it conveniently ties up its loose ends. Pitch Perfect 2 is a knee slapper of a good time, and as much as I enjoyed watching it, I wanted something more than just a funny movie that doesn’t fall flat when it comes to building layered characters who we know have better harmony than its catchy songs.
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With a run time of 115 minutes, the film is now in theaters and is rated PG-13 for innuendo and language. [Watch the trailer]