Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)
We’re Back, Pitches
A-ca-believe it, but they’ve almost done it again! In 2012, unsuspecting audiences were introduced to The Barden Bellas, a perky, all-girl a cappella group in the sleeper hit Pitch Perfect; an amiable musical-comedy of sorts which popularized vocal-only mash-ups of hit radio tracks. Now in 2015, the Bellas are back! Three years after the original film, Pitch Perfect 2 opens with The Barden Bellas — who are the current reigning a cappella champions — performing for President Obama at the Lincoln Center in New York. Alas, the Bellas are humiliated after Fat Amy has a wardrobe malfunction on stage while carrying out a Miley Cyrus-inspired act, giving the president and the public an unwelcome peak at her privates, in turn disgracing Barden University.
After the unlikely mishap goes viral — illustrated by an amusing cameo-studded news montage — the Bellas are suspended and stripped of their a-ca duties by the gatekeepers of America’s college a cappella league, Gail Abernathy-McKadden and John Smith, who are once again deliciously portrayed by Elizabeth Banks, The Hunger Games (2012), and John Michael Higgins, Fired Up! (2009), with their gleaming toothpaste grins. Under their own steam, the Bellas’ only chance at redemption lies in beating the German supergroup Das Sound Machine — a militarized troupe of ultra-efficient giants, clad in formidable fetish gear — at the World a cappella Championship in Copenhagen.
In spite of this calamity, our heroine Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick) isn’t all too concerned about the Bellas’ fall from grace; she’s more focused on life after college and her dreams of becoming a music producer, taking on a ‘covert’ internship at a recording studio managed by a comically sadistic Grammy-laden producer, played by an exceptional Keegan-Michael Key, Let’s Be Cops (2014). Additionally, now that Beca and the rest of the Bellas are in their final year of college, Pitch Perfect 2 sees filmmakers skilfully pave the way for the future of the franchise, introducing Beca’s successor, Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit (2010), into the mix. A new recruit to their sorority, Steinfeld’s Emily Junk is a talented songwriter who has long dreamed of becoming a Bella, following in her mother, Katherine Junk’s (Katey Sagal) first-generation Bella footsteps. With most of the returning male players reduced to mere afterthoughts, it’s Bumper Allen, Adam DeVine, Pitch Perfect (2012), who carries the macho team, with the egotistical college grad coming back to Barden University as a campus security officer, still in romantic pursuit of Fat Amy, forcing her to face her apparent commitment issues.
Pitch Perfect writer Kay Cannon returns to pen the sequel, once again placing an emphasis on female collaboration and independence while underlining the importance of risk-taking; in spite of this, the script sticks pretty close to formula for the most part. There’s also a fair amount of rehashed material on display here, with this sequel lacking in musical numbers — none of the song selections or mash-ups truly surpass the ingenuity of Kendrick’s ‘When I’m Gone.’ Furthermore, Pitch Perfect 2 feels somewhat bloated and suffers slightly due to a number of unnecessary side plots. The Bellas attend an outdoor retreat to rediscover their ‘lost spirit ‘ and are re-acquainted with former Bella, Aubrey Posen (Anna Camp), way too late in the game; their trip to Europe and the picture’s final act in Denmark also feels rushed with the tension between the Bellas and Da Sound Machine never being fully resolved. And let’s not forget about the subplot involving Snoop Dogg’s attempt at making a Christmas album.
Thankfully Cannon’s writing retains all the fun witticisms and straight-faced humor that made its predecessor such a success and features a handful of standout sequences. An electric five-way a cappella showdown mediated by David Cross — who is credited as Sir Willups Brightslymoore — revolving around topics such as ‘songs about butts’ and ‘John Mayer’s ex-flames,’ is a winner, as is the hilarious banter between the poker-faced collegiate commentators, Gail Abernathy-McKadden and her partner, bigot, John Smith. Look out for an unlikely cameo by the Green Bay Packers, with linebacker Clay Matthews fronting the squad, which is almost worth the price of admission alone.
Elizabeth Banks, taking over from previous helmer Jason Moore, does an admirable job directing her first full-length feature. Utilizing split screen and the vibrant costumes designed by Salvador Pérez Jr., Pitch Perfect (2012), Banks exhibits skill and promise as a prominent female filmmaker, one who ingeniously uses humor, apparel and music to enhance a picture that’s clearly light on narrative. Aiding Banks however, are her a-ca-awesome cast of faces, both old and new. The always wonderful Anna Kendrick — in her third musical role this year after Into the Woods (2014) and The Last Five Years (2014) — shines as the Bellas’ new leader Beca, bringing brains, sophistication and spunk to our heroine, whereas Brittany Snow’s, Hairspray (2007), Chloe Beale — who is so attached to the a cappella group that she’s willfully remained at college for seven years — has less to do this time around. The softly spoken Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) gets a couple of moments to shine while Stacy (Alexis Knapp) seems to have gotten ‘hotter’ in this second flick.
Needless to say, Australia’s Rebel Wilson, Bridesmaids (2011), steals all the best lines as Fat Amy, along with the majority of the flick’s heartiest laughs, showcasing her impressive improvisatory skills and subversive sense of humor. Fat Amy once again proves that body weight doesn’t determine one’s fate; I’m sure Wilson and DeVine’s duet of Pat Benatar’s ‘We Belong’ will go down as one of this year’s most memorable sequences. With so much going on, Beca’s beau Jesse (Skylar Astin) is reduced to a bit player with little purpose other than offering his girlfriend support when she needs it whereas his rookie magician roommate, Benjamin ‘Benji’ Applebaum (Ben Platt), has an expanded role, finding a love-interest in the new Bella, Emily.
With excellent performances from the entire returning cast, Pitch Perfect 2 introduces viewers to a colorful bunch of new players. Hailee Steinfeld is a revelation as Emily Junk, the wide-eyed freshman and second-generation Bella, whose song writing skills prove to be the perfect match for Beca’s mixing talents. Elsewhere, German YouTube personality Flula Borg, better known as DJ Flula, embraces caricature as Da Sound Machine frontman, Pieter Krämer, alongside his arresting co-leader, Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), a striking blonde who Beca develops an unusual crush on. Moreover, the European troupe’s thickly accented covers of 90’s hits such as ‘Zis is How Ve Do It’ and ‘Insane In Ze Membrane’ are undeniably amusing. New Bella Florencia ‘Flo’ Fuentes (Chrissie Fit), a stereotypical foreign exchange student, doesn’t offer much bar a handful of illegal immigration jokes that mostly fail to register while other Bellas, Jessica (Kelley Jakle) and Ashley (Shelley Regner) are so insignificant, even they can’t tell one another apart.
At the end of the day, Pitch Perfect 2 exists as a rare Hollywood production; it’s written and directed by women and stars a number of diverse actresses to boot, standing as a breath of fresh air in an overly masculine marketplace. Almost reaching the heights of its 2012 ancestor, first-time feature director Elizabeth Banks delivers the goods with this sleek, well-intentioned sequel, staying true to its roots whilst developing the characters from the first film in new and exciting ways. Embodying the riotous sense of humor and vibrant energy of its predecessor, Pitch Perfect 2 finishes with a climactic performance of Emily’s original ballad ‘Flashlight’— which was written by Sia and Sam Smith for the film and released as a single, recorded by Jessie J — a by-the-numbers ditty that’s sure to be a hit. Borrowing a phrase from Fat Amy, it’s clear to say that Elizabeth Banks ‘crushed it!’
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Pitch Perfect 2 is released through Universal Pictures Australia