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Review: Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

Directed by: Elizabeth Banks

Premise: A sequel to the 2012 film. After a disastrous public performance, the Bellas risk being permanently removed from acapella competitions unless they can win an international contest. At the same time, Becca (Anna Kendrick) works at an internship and prepares to graduate.

What Works: Those who liked the original Pitch Perfect are probably going to enjoy the sequel. It retains most of what was appealing about the original picture. Pitch Perfect 2 is not as obnoxious as the first film. There is a little more restraint with the puns and the cuteness. It also helps that the movie isn’t so absorbed in this hypothetical world of competitive acapella singing and so the movie has some downtime between bursts of song. Cinematically speaking, Pitch Perfect 2 generally improves the musical sequences. In the original Pitch Perfect the soundtrack and the visuals didn’t match very well but in the sequel they cohere much more comfortably. The musical sequences also have significantly more scale and are ambitiously assembled, especially the Bella’s final performance. Most of the core cast of Pitch Perfect return for the sequel and they generally do well but the acting highlight is a small supporting part by Keegan-Michael Key as a music producer. Key’s comic sensibilities are well suited to the tone of Pitch Perfect and he provides the movie with many of its funniest moments.

What Doesn’t: Pitch Perfect 2 is one of those sequels that seems like two or three different scripts were flung together. Of those hypothetical scripts, at least one of them was the story of the original movie. All of the major plot beats and set pieces of the 2012 picture are simply reenacted here. In addition to reusing a lot of the original Pitch Perfect story, the sequel also mixes elements of a redemption plotline and a graduation story. These three elements don’t fit together and many of the scenes in this movie go nowhere. They don’t advance character or plot and they exist in isolation from the other scenes in the picture. This is most apparent in the impromptu underground acapella contest, which is shamelessly ripped off of the original film and it accomplishes nothing. Pitch Perfect 2 also suffers from inadequate characterization. Since the release of the original movie, actresses Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson have become movie stars and so the focus of the story is on them. The Pitch Perfect series was always the story of Kendrick’s character so that’s not a big shift but in group scenes Wilson is frequently the focus at the expense of everyone else. Wilson understands her role in the movie and has deft comic timing but virtually none of the other Bellas are characterized. One new singer is introduced to the group, a freshman played by Hailee Steinfeld. She does well in the part but the filmmakers mishandle her story. As a graduation narrative, the upper classmen should set her through trials in which they pass the torch to her while learning to let go but that never really happens in a meaningful way. The Pitch Perfect sequel also lacks in some of the music. The first film had a clever way of mixing the acapella sound with contemporary pop songs and resulted in some clever arrangements. Nothing in the second movie has that same level of creativity. The movie suffers similarly in its humor.  As with the music, the original Pitch Perfect mixed sweet and genteel characters with biting insults and off-color humor. The sequel mishandles that, often spoiling the delicate balance. This is particularly true of the racial jokes. The movie piles them on, especially at the international contest. The intent may have been to be self-consciously inappropriate but after so many jokes the filmmakers lose their veneer of self-awareness and the movie gets uncharacteristically mean spirited.

Bottom Line: Pitch Perfect 2 is a sequel stuck repeating a lot of the original picture. There is enough of what made the first film a sleeper hit to appease the core audience but a lot of Pitch Perfect 2 is just the first film warmed over.

Episode: #543 (May 24, 2015)