Review: Pitch Perfect 2 – Aca-average outing for the Bellas

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MUSICAL comedy Pitch Perfect was a surprise hit back in 2012, and a sequel was rapidly put into production with all of the original principals returning, looking even more implausibly old for college students. Just like the show Glee, which Pitch Perfect loved making barbs about, Pitch Perfect went from lampooning pop culture to becoming pop culture itself, with all of the risks involved. The sequel could have been an alienating cash-grab, but it manages to justify its existence with good jokes, stellar musical performances and more Anna Kendrick than the Sundance Film Festival.

The plot structure of Pitch Perfect 2 is almost identical to the first: The Barden Bellas are humiliated during a public performance; take on new members, participate in a riff-off against a bunch of other groups and lose; there’s some in-fighting which is resolved, then they enter the big competition at the end with an innovative mash-up. They even pull the exact same trick of cutting to credits mid-sentence.

It’s the same story, though balanced with a new subplot in which Beca becomes an intern at a record company; the sequel could have devoted more time to following Beca into this brave new world and left the aca-bollocks at the wayside, and it would have been a less marketable but more interesting continuation of her story.

The jokes are much of a muchness with the original, and actually make it more obvious just how one-note the characters are. Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) is fat, Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) says weird things very quietly, Stacie is promiscuous… that said, the actresses all imbue plenty of life into their stereotypes and the group dynamic really does work. Another one-joke newcomer is a Guatemalan student named Flo (Chrissie Fit) whose gimmick is casually comparing the mild inconveniences of the Bellas and the actual hardships she underwent living in the third world.

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Anna Kendrick’s snarky Beca has more nuance than the rest, making an odd case of a comedy where the lead character isn’t a blank slate, though she’s a lot less of a curmudgeon this time and much closer to the chirpy geek Kendrick just playing herself. One peculiar running joke has Beca awkwardly girl-crushing on her German nemesis (Birgitte Hjort Sorenson) and finding herself blurting out compliments during a stand-off.

The joke is adorable and Kendrick plays it well, but is this really the same character who was so uncomfortable around the overly-confident Chloe in the first film’s memorable shower scene? The eye-rolling, movie-hating Beca Mitchell of the original has given way to a cuter, more Kendrick-y Beca… perhaps it was intentional character development, or perhaps it was just easier to write her this way. Or perhaps they didn’t care.

The other character who took a strange personality turn was Brittany Snow’s Chloe, who is retconned into still being a Bella three years on despite graduating at the end of the first movie. Apparently she keeps failing on purpose so she can be a senior Bella indefinitely… which is really sad. I could buy Aubrey pulling something like that, but Chloe (whose post-nodes bass voice sadly doesn’t reappear) always seemed saner than that.

If they wanted Brittany Snow in the whole movie, she could have been hired at the college or something (which is how they squeeze Bumper back in) but instead she’s a total drag with an arc which infuriates rather than charms. I can’t recall a single funny moment from Chloe this whole movie, which is a shame because she was plenty funny in the first movie.

The most significant new character is Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) the only member of the cast actually playing her own age (several of her college friends are old enough to be her mother). Emily is an aspiring songwriter and the daughter of a former Bella (Katey Sagal, who should be in everything), and is also hyper-enthusiastic and optimistic. Steinfeld, it turns out, has a lovely singing voice and is the most this sequel has to offer in not repeating the first.

Other returning stars include director Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins as the hilariously offensive commentators, Anna Camp as the psychotic perfectionist Aubrey, Ben Platt as the adorkable Benji, Adam DeVine as a more sensitive Bumper, and a sadly underused Skylar Astin as Jesse. New faces include Keegan-Michael Key (of Key and Peale) as Beca’s terrifying new boss, the never-disappointing David Cross in a cameo which redeems the riff-off retread which would have failed without him, and a little-known up-and-comer named Snoop Dogg.

As hilarious and re-watchable as the first Pitch Perfect is, an unfortunate consequence of being so timely with their music choices is that the songs chosen have already dated significantly. It treats then-contemporary songs like Bruno Mars’ ‘Just the Way You Are’ and Miley Cyrus’ ‘Party in the USA’ with a little too much reverence, especially when the artists in question don’t really play those songs anymore. Sorry ladies, but ‘Party in the USA’ is no ‘Tiny Dancer’ and your Almost Famous homage makes me shudder rather than squee.

This second outing is similarly dated at times, but balances out with a few more proven classics. The unfortunate thing here is the lack of humour generated by the musical sequences. It’s much more like Glee, keeping up the laughs during the dialogue sections and then grinding the laughs to a halt for a song sequence, rather than keeping the laughs coming and not taking the singing so seriously. If you’re there to watch some damn impressive a capella performances, then it won’t be so bothersome, but you probably won’t want to watch half-a-dozen medleys if you’re here for the chuckles.

The big question though: is it funny? Yes it is. It doesn’t have the unpredictability of the original, and the jokes can be repetitive, but it kept me laughing throughout. I was never bored, and it didn’t feel quite its runtime, but I know I won’t be rewatching this one as often as the iconic original.

It’s more Anchorman 2 than Dumb and Dumber Too; a sequel we didn’t need that doesn’t live up to the promise, but not a disaster by any means. Don’t go in expecting a better film; expect a little new material from the established team, and you’ll enjoy Pitch Perfect 2 plenty. It’s aca-average.

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