As someone with an active contempt for contemporary pop music, it’s safe to say that I wasn’t the target audience for 2012’s Pitch Perfect. But the plucky little comedy about an all-girl team of a Capella singers proved to be a pleasant surprise, and recent re-watch proved that the film’s success wasn’t a product of low expectations. Now the Barden Bellas are back in Pitch Perfect 2, a film that is at once both funnier and messier than its predecessor.
After opening with an a Capella version of the Universal Pictures theme, the film hits the ground running. The commentators from the first film, Gail (Elizabeth Banks) and John (John Michael Higgins), are announcing the latest performance of the Barden Bellas, who have won 3 consecutive collegiate a Capella championships, for President Obama and the First Lady. Just as the flashy spectacle seems to be reaching its apex, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) has a wardrobe malfunction, embarrassing the Bellas as well as the world of competitive a Capella. Though they’re banned from collegiate competition, the Bellas are free to compete in the international championships, though that may be just a pipe dream as the American team has never been victorious. Meanwhile, Beca (Anna Kendrick) is making headway in realizing her dream in becoming a music producer, landing an internship for a successful music producer played by Keegan-Michael Key. Beca fears that this new gig may jeopardize her relationship with Chloe (Brittany Snow), who eats, lives, and breathes life in the Bellas. After taking on a newcomer Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), the Bellas practice to take on the well-oiled, German engineered a Capella group Das Sound Machine. The Barden Bellas must overcome their own fears and difference in order to find perfect harmony and defeat Das Sound Machine at the international championships in Copenhagen, Denmark.
From its opening frames up until the finale, Pitch Perfect 2 swiftly moves from gag to gag, one-liner to one-liner that it makes it easy to overlook the film’s many deficiencies. For one, the film is surprisingly lacking in story and conflict – and any conflict is minor and quickly resolved. In a certain sense, Pitch Perfect 2 is somewhat similar to Avengers: Age of Ultron in that it’s just overflowing with characters, some of which are underserved. For example, Beca’s boyfriend Jesse (Skylar Astin) returns but he doesn’t actually serve any narrative purpose and is all but erased from the film for much of its running time. Oddly, there are two other romantic entanglements that are given more attention than that of its lead character.
Making her directorial debut, Elizabeth Banks uses her comedic knowledge to make the film much looser and laugh out loud funnier than the first film. But that comes at a price as the film isn’t particularly focused, as happens with a number of comedies that rely so heavily on improv. For the most part, Banks relies on very conventional filmmaking technique. The musical sequences seems to be edited together from coverage, not meticulously planned – this ain’t Bob Fosse choreography. And Banks also employs a number of montages to diminishing effect; seriously, there’s like 5 montages in this film. However, for all the technical shortcomings, Banks and screenwriter Kay Cannon keep the jokes flying in a frenzy that these problems don’t really become apparent until after the credits have rolled.
Returning from the first film is Alexis Knapp, Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean, Anna Camp, Adam DeVine, Kelley Jakle, Ben Platt, and more, though Lee, Dean, Platt, and DeVine are probably given the most focus on the screen. Also aiding Banks in masking the film’s shortcomings is the film’s expansive and impressive cast of comedic talent including David Cross, Reggie Watts, Jason Jones, John Hodgman, Joe Lo Truglio, and a handful of members of the Green Bay Packers. Of the whole robust roster of comedic talent, Rebel Wilson continues to steal the spotlight, proving that she’s a comedic force to be reckoned with. In their few brief scenes, Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins sneak in some of the funniest and most offensive one-liners in the film, some of which might inspire some insipid thinkpieces.
But for all its flaws, Pitch Perfect 2 keeps you laughing from start to finish. Based on her directorial debut, Elizabeth Banks shows that create cinematic comedy along with the best. Yet Banks’ directorial chops aren’t up for the complex task of staging big, sweeping musical numbers, but I can’t think of any first time director that would be able to pull off such a difficult task. More importantly, Banks wasn’t crafting a straightforward musical, she was crafting a comedy with musical elements. The comedy of Pitch Perfect 2 render the film’s flaws an afterthought that won’t arrive until well after you’ve had time to catch your breath.