Pitch Perfect 2
Directed by Elizabeth Banks. Starring Anna Kendrick, Elizabeth Banks, Brittany Snow, Alexis Knapp, Hailee Steinfeld, Skylar Astin, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Hana Mae Lee, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Karen Gonzalez, Shelley Regner, John Michael Higgins, Rachel Marie Burgess, Kirstie Maldonado, Katey Sagal, Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, Avi Kaplan, Kevin Olusola, Leticia Jimenez, Ritchie Montgomery, Marisela Zumbado, Jeff Caperton, Brea Grant, Kelley Jakle, Ben Platt, Ester Dean, Adam DeVine, Flula Borg, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Chrissie Fit. Written by Kay Cannon.
Pitch Perfect 2 culminates, of course, in the big a cappella sing-off (it’s the world championships this time around) and after dozens of performances from countries across the globe, including two by our heroines from the USA and that dastardly German team, the winner is clear.
Or is it? The film seems to think that the a cappella singing quality is so apparent that we don’t even need to see the judges’ results – we should know who won by the performances themselves. (By audience voting? Scorecards? I still have no idea how these things are decided.)
But for the life of me, I cannot tell you which team is the best. I cannot tell you which performances are good and which are bad. All the damn songs sound exactly the same, bland re-hashes of pop tunes that all blend together. We’re supposed to be impressed by the accomplished vocals, but everything sounds really auto-tuned. Is it just me? I had the same exact issue last time around, too.
But don’t go by me. The first Pitch Perfect was a surprise hit with both critics and audiences back in 2012, and for better or worse this is roughly the same movie. Anyone looking for further development of these characters might be disappointed, but if you’re content with an if-it-ain’t-broke re-hash of what worked the first time around you shouldn’t be disappointed here.
Like the first film, Pitch Perfect 2 seems to know that the premise of competitive a cappella singing is inherently silly. In the opening scene, US a cappella champions The Barden Bellas are performing at the White House when an unfortunate mishap leaves Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) exposing her naughty bits in front of President Obama (seen in some clumsy stock footage reaction shots).
Meanwhile, and throughout the rest of the film, a cappella commentators played by John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (who, strangely, makes her feature directing debut here) make quippy remarks. She’s an idiot! He’s a sexist! Hah!
But Pitch Perfect 2 isn’t exactly Best in Show (Christopher Guest’s hilarious send-up of competitive dog shows), and for all the clever dialogue, the storytelling is decidedly by-the-numbers.
After the White House miscue, the Bellas are banned from stateside competitive a cappella, but are still eligible to compete in the World Championships at Copenhagen. To defeat impressive German team Das Sound Machine, however, Beca (Anna Kendrick), Chloe (Brittany Snow), newcomer Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) and the rest of the Bellas – the black lesbian (Ester Dean), the quiet Asian (Hana Mae Lee), and the other interchangeables – will need to come up with something new.
Das Sound Machine – and especially their team leader, played by Birgitte Hjort Sørensen – are legitimately impressive: they’re the only group in the movie to have a unique look and sound. At the Championships, the stereotypical groups from the other countries give off an unfortunate Epcot Center vibe.
As the Bellas struggle to work together to find their collective voice, each of the characters has their own thinly-sketched storyline, and at some point this begins to feel like The Avengers; at almost two hours long, it wears out its welcome by about 20 minutes. The film does no favors to poor Rebel Wilson, who not only has to suffer the name of Fat Amy but also features in the most ridiculous subplot. Wilson is used as comedy relief, but a high percentage of jokes throughout the movie fall completely flat.
In the film’s best scene, bolstered by some surprise cameos, the girls are invited by “the world’s biggest a cappella fan” (played by David Cross) to compete at his mansion against other a cappella teams. Here, lo and behold, he has a set of rules in his competition: each team must follow the same beat under a selected genre (90s Hip Hop Jams) while passing off to other teams, or they’ll be eliminated.
I like being able to follow the competition, to know who is winning, and ultimately, who has won. The finale of Pitch Perfect 2 is similar to Rocky; only we don’t know when the punches land, or if Rocky and/or Apollo are struggling to keep up the fight, and the judges’ scorecards are never revealed at the end. We just have to infer who has won based on where the screenplay was heading up until the fight.