Film Review – Pitch Perfect 2
Pitch Perfect 2
The thing about sequels to surprise hits is seeing if it will capture the same kind of magic as before. Pitch Perfect (2012) came out of nowhere, bringing a lot of music, laughs, and a tightly knit story to make a fun movie going experience. Three years later comes Pitch Perfect 2 (2015). The DNA of the first film is still there, but the lightning in the bottle has faded. This is a looser story, with a narrative that meanders around in tangents and unnecessary side plots. The singing is on point, as is expected, but it never reaches the highs we were hoping it would. Don’t get me wrong, fans will be plenty entertained, but the pitch wasn’t quite as perfect this time around (I promise, that is the only time I’ll be making that joke).
Elizabeth Banks produced the first entry and returns with the additional responsibility of director. This is her feature length debut behind the camera, and my initial reaction: she has a very weird sense of humor. This is a funny movie, with jokes spilling out in rapid-fire succession. But it’s also quirky, strange, and off beat. Kay Cannon’s screenplay has characters doing and saying a lot of random things (much of it also appeared to come from improvisation). Most of the time the jokes worked, but in some instances it pushed the envelope a little too far. A lot of the racial and gender-based comedy came close to being offensive.
It’s interesting that Banks also plays one of the weaker characters. Gail and John (John Michael Higgins) return as the radio/podcast duo that comment during acapella competitions. This time, their back and forth is less funny and more vulgar. Obviously, Gail and John are meant to be ridiculous characters, and their remarks are targeted at all different kinds of races, genders, and ethnic groups. But there’s nothing all that clever in their comedy. The continuous stereotyping they do is inserted really for the shock effect. I’m glad they’re only featured for a short amount of time, any longer could have sunk the whole film.
Our favorite group of female singers – the Barden Bellas – have dominated the scene since we last saw them. They have won three straight national championships, and have become legends on campus. However, success has also lead to stagnation. Relying less on their vocal strengths and more on theatrics, the Bellas have lost part of their identity. After an embarrassing performance in front of a national audience, they run the risk of being stripped of their status and dismembered as a group. The only way they can regain their prominence is by winning the World Acapella Championship, an international competition that no American team has ever won before.
That is the gist of the main plot. To fill the runtime, the screenplay offers a number of side stories that are set up, but don’t go anywhere significant. Each of the members are growing up and can see the rest of their lives hurtling toward them, but their personal journeys don’t have the emotional heft to be compelling. Beca (Anna Kendrick) landed an internship for a record producer (a hilarious Keegan-Michael Key) that she hopes can turn into a serious job. Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) sees her life on the wild side in jeopardy as she starts to build feelings for Bumper (Adam DeVine), member of the Bellas male counterpart, the Treblemakers. And newest recruit Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) is eager to impress and continue the legacy of the Bellas. All these different threads wrap around each other but don’t fit together cohesively. It’s all filler to make up time between the musical performances.
One of Elizabeth Banks’ tendencies as a new director here was to not allow the musical sequences to expand and breathe. There are a number of fine songs, but the pacing and editing seemed in hurry to move on. Just as a performance starts to hit its stride, Banks will quickly cut to Gail and John (unfortunately) or cut it short all together. The musical centerpiece involves a “riff-off” of different groups facing against each other, similar to the empty pool scene of the first film. But instead of allowing the scene to develop to showcase the singers’ vocal ability, it’s paced too quickly, geared more toward comedy than musicality. It’s an entertaining scene for sure, but if you’re looking to get into the music and sing along, you might be disappointed.
The chemistry between the main characters is still there. I liked how each one of the Bellas had their own unique personality (even the ones that remain in the background) but they all click together as a unit. They gel, clash, bump heads, but stick together in the way that family members do. It’s too bad the rest of Pitch Perfect 2 didn’t turn out the same way. The dynamic between the characters got bogged down by flimsy plotting, and I’m not sure how some of the riskier jokes will play to general audiences. I guess you can say that despite the fun, this one didn’t quite hit the right note (dang it!).