In the spectacular finale of 2012’s Pitch Perfect, the girls, the “Barden Bellas”, sing a mash up of several songs. Yet one in particular actually transcends the film and appropriately describes what’s being set up in the sequel. Thinking of those Jessie J lyrics in the context of Pitch Perfect 2, “everybody look to their left, everybody look to the right“, this sequel is about the girls finding strength by looking to the Bella standing beside them. This sequel is indeed that sappy, but it’s not the whole story either. Elizabeth Banks takes the helm, and makes sure there’s plenty of irreverent glee in this follow-up effort. It’s absurd, self-aware, and insensitive, but it’s also hilarious!
Pitch Perfect 2, plain and simple, suffers from sequelitis. Most notably, more characters, advanced plot, eh, you get the idea. As with most films, the first entry is more or less a safe bet. Pitch Perfect was a hit, and so this sequel gets the green light to go for broke. They know they can get away with whatever they want, but there are only so many ways to take a follow-up. It’s predictably rowdier, and if the girls were meant to ride off into the acapella sunset, then they deserve a better swan song; the film is a bit of a mess. In the film, Elizabeth Banks eludes to the girls’ performance as a circus act, and that is a perfect metaphor – it encapsulates not just the tone of the story, but how this will be received.
Banks’ film strays from straight comedy and leans much closer to spoof territory. It doesn’t pull any punches either, and really, they have to do something fill the time – the plot is threadbare and banal. What Banks lacks in experience, she tries to make up for with complexity. There’s a lot going on, but it starts to resemble a series of SNL skits. Thankfully more of it works than doesn’t. Easily the funniest movie of the year, the ride is enjoyable (although not consistent, or coherent). Yet, a couple quick changes to the script may have vastly improved the experience.
A smarter way would have been to down play some of the self-indulgent insult humor, and begin with a mere 30 second credits montage (a la Spider-Man 2), that tells what happened to the Bellas in the last 3 years. Also unnecessarily drawn out ad-lib scenes are signs that the cast probably had a treatment as opposed to a script (well, Banks got every penny out of Keegan-Michael Key, that’s for sure). That would help the story keep focus on the Bellas and their new antagonists, the remarkable troupe Das Sound Machine. The twenty-person ensemble, likened to Cirque de Soleil on steroids, is led by androgynous and Gothic versions of Superman II’s General Zod and Ursa. But they are so good, you’ll want to see more performances – their rendition of ‘Light It Up’ is just awesome.
The girls are legitimately talented and retain the charm from 3 years prior. However, this story puts their skills on the back burner and finds each one (mainly Kendrick) struggling with personal issues. The story is more emotional, and introduces the idea that even the best of times don’t last forever. Certain Bellas face the inevitability of graduation and the girls’ biggest problem isn’t the rag-tag team finding their groove (like Major League, or even Dodgeball) but growing up. As both director and producer, Banks tries to make this more apparent than the raunchy humor. Again, most of it works.
The film really shines when Rebel Wilson gets to be herself. She’s perfect in that sort of affable idiot role, and her mannerisms, accent, and highly uncool delivery make her a joy to watch; she helps distract from the under cooked plot and characters. Certain scenes kill and others just lag. Similarly, compared to the previous film, the story feels hollow and the ending is, well, kind of lame. Enjoyable, and entertaining (thanks to DSM!), but a little lame.
The unexpected success of the first Pitch Perfect pretty much allowed all involved to live on borrowed time for all 115 minutes of this film. The team meant well, but this entry, even with gut-busting jokes, ends on a poignant whimper. You can’t say they didn’t give it their all, but if Wayne’s World 2, Bill, Ted’s Bogus Journey, Adams Family Values, Ghostbusters 2, and a slew of other underwhelming follow-ups (that have no interesting way to push their story forward) are prophetic, it’s unlikely (yet inevitable if this pulls in a ton of money) that we’ll see a third film. Banks’ film is equal parts heart, harmony and hilarity, and while the team’s second pitch wasn’t perfect, as Fat Amy says, they crushed it!