Movie Review: ‘PITCH PERFECT 2’ Is Aca-Awesome

0


Courtney Howard // Film Critic

PITCH PERFECT 2 |  115 min  | PG-13
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Writer: Kay Cannon (screenplay), Mickey Rapkin (characters)
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine and Katey Sagal

They’ve gotten the band back together for PITCH PERFECT 2 and boy does it sing – well, mostly. While it hits a few sour notes, it mostly remains on key. The Barden Bellas’ second chapter – this time directed by franchise producer and co-star Elizabeth Banks – is inherently and infinitely better simply because it’s not nearly as aggressively mean-spirited, homophobic, racist, slut-shaming and size-ist as the first. They’ve matured. They are more compassionate, accepting people. Their bond is strong. Now it’s just a matter of where filmmakers take the tightly knit group. Exhilarating, irreverent and hilarious, it’s a candy-coated romp with a lively spirit that’s perfectly “perfect” in its imperfection.

Flying high after being crowned a cappella champions for the third year in a row, the Barden Bellas – Beca (Anna Kendrick), Chloe (Brittany Snow), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), Cythia-Rose (Ester Dean), Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), Stacie (Alexis Knapp) and new girl Flo (Chrissie Fit) – are on tour, set to entertain the President at the Kennedy Center. Only they go a little too overboard on the theatrics, leading Fat Amy to split her spandex and the term “Muffgate” to become part of America’s lexicon. After the embarrassing stunt goes viral, the University subjects our beloved crew to disciplinary actions, barring them from touring or holding auditions. But Beca brokers a deal: if they win the World Championship in Copenhagen, their group will be reinstated. The catch? Announcers John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Banks, pulling triple duty) tell them no Americans have ever won the competition. With the uber talented German crew Das Sound Machine – led by the cutthroat Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) and her henchman, Pieter Krämer (YouTube superstar Flula Borg) – looking to steal their spotlight, the girls have their work cut out for them. Luckily, their freshman legacy member Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) just might be their ace in the hole.

Banks ups the level of artistry when photographing the colorful, bubbly, charismatic musical numbers. From the pool party, to the underground riff-off, to the sleep-away camp, there’s a certain hopeful, vibrant and lighthearted energy that sets it apart from the original (which I felt was trying too hard to emulate BRING IT ON). Similar to an actual musical, this is an auditory delight that’s also aesthetically pleasing. Cannon’s script excels in the third act when the girls are forced together, working on team building skills and rediscovering what makes them great. In somewhat of an appealing dichotomy, though the message espouses the importance of having an original voice, catchy covers set the tone and atmosphere. “Flashlight,” which works to one-up “Cups” in terms of poignancy, provides the film’s original tune.

The Barden Bellas face off against rivals in PITCH PERFECT 2. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

The Barden Bellas face off against rivals in PITCH PERFECT 2. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

In this iteration, instead of learning how to come together as a team, they have to figure out how to have a graceful exit strategy.  In line with the lesson they learned last time that they have to vary their song selection, the semi-incredulous problem this time around is that they haven’t thought about their futures outside of the collegiate bubble. The trouble is, though this is interesting territory to cover, Cannon’s script leaves it underdeveloped. Nevertheless, there are more authentic “get on your feet and cheer” moments instilled into the sequel’s drive.

While PITCH PERFECT 2 is aca-awesome in parts, it’s less than aca-amazing in others. Suffering from pacing issues and “sequelitis” (i.e. not breaking away from the original’s similar script beats), sequences lack necessary connective tissue to keep the narrative flowing. Much like the mash-ups showcased, Cannon’s script and Banks’ direction are like a mash-up of solid ideas, minus any fluidity. Getting from A to B to C feels noticeably disjointed and clunky. There’s a gag with a pillow fight that falls flat, leading us to question why it’s in there in the first place. Is it subversive retaliation to a terribly misogynist executive note? Maybe. We’ll never know.

Balance between the characters, their ennui, and their existential crises isn’t as effortless as one would have hoped. Beca was the anchor of the original, but here she’s relegated to part of an ensemble. It’s hard to see why she is so conflicted about leaving the group to start her life. Her quandary lacks a necessary punch. Actually, there’s no lead player in this iteration when it could really use one. Even though I found Jesse (Skylar Astin) to be the most annoying and pushy part of the first film, filmmakers can barely find the space to include his character. Emily’s arc is handled with a very light touch, taking a while to materialize. Plus, Chloe is forgotten about after her first act introduction, when she should be more of a presence throughout to warrant the film’s killer third act. At least Bumper (Adam Devine) and quiet talker/ fan favorite Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) aren’t dealt short shrift.

Listen, over-analyzing and nit-picking isn’t what the franchise is about. Or maybe it is. What we need right now is an original voice in a sea of sameness. Carbon-copying much of the original’s formula may not have been the way to go, but at least it leaves audiences on a helluva strong note.

PITCH PERFECT 2 is available on Blu-ray/DVD today.

The Blu-ray Combo Pack will include:

  • Never Before Seen Treblemakers Performance
  • Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes
  • Gag Reel
  • Extended Musical Performances
  • The Bellas Are Back
  • The Making of the Riff- Off
  • Das Sound Machine Finale Breakdown
  • Snoop in the House
  • Green Bay Rap
  • Line-Aca-Rama
  • The World Championships of A Cappella
  • An Aca-Love Story: Bumper and Fat Amy
  • Elizabeth Banks’ Directorial Debut
  • Legacy: Hailee Steinfeld
  • Aca-Camp
  • Residual Heat Internship

The DVD will include:

  • Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes
  • Gag Reel
  • Extended Musical Performances
  • The Bellas Are Back
About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.