Sunday, May 24, 2015

Not Perfect, But Still a Good Time: "Pitch Perfect 2" (2015)



The Barden Bellas are back, and the comedy is cranked up in this sequel that is just as good as the first film.

After their triumph in the first film, the a capella group led by Beca (Anna Kendrick) are performing for the President and First Lady when a set malfunction results in Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) flashing her genitalia to the world. The group is suspended from competing in domestic singing contests and auditioning for new singers, which is kind of okay with Beca as she has just started an internship at a recording studio run by a hotshot producer (a very funny Keegan-Michael Key). The Bellas' tour is taken over by a group from Germany, and the Bellas return home to recover. They accept legacy pledge Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), who composes her own songs, and then prepare to compete at the world championship a capella competition in Copenhagen. No American group has ever won it (the rest of the world hates us), and if the Bellas pull it off, they will be reinstated. The Bellas are not ready, and continue their downward spiral until they are whipped into shape by a former leader and deal with their own internal struggles and issues.

While I was surprised I enjoyed the first film as much as I did, I laughed out loud much more here. There is plenty of subplot to go around, and even the addition of the new characters like Emily and Guatemalan Flo (Chrissie Fit) feels right. It's hilarious that Chloe (Brittany Snow) continues to flunk a Russian literature class to stay in school, and the Bellas, since the group is now her entire life. Bumper (Adam DeVine) returns, as well as sympathetic Benji (Ben Platt) and Beca's still-boyfriend Jesse (Skylar Astin, who is not given nearly as much to do this time around). Screenwriter Kay Cannon could have taken the easy way out and simply moved the Bellas up to a bigger competition, but instead the conflict and the group's comfortable conceit with themselves is a good direction. Elizabeth Banks doesn't overdo her supporting role with John Michael Higgins, but they score more laughs as the a capella overseers and commentators.

Beca continues to work on her dream of becoming a music producer before her new boss puts her in her place (calling her demos a bunch of mash-ups), and forcing her to try more original material (luckily Emily is waiting in the wings with that one perfect song she's been working on). This kind of message kind of flies in the face of the first film, where music from the recent past was highlighted, and Beca's "derivative" mash-ups were actually more listenable than most of pop radio today. Another quibble is the riff-off scene featuring David Cross. Some funny stuff for sure, but the scene feels dropped in and the odd character and his competition never seem to jibe with the main thrust of the film. There are a lot of good scenes here, running jokes that continually work (Beca's inability to insult the German group's female lead singer thanks to a girl crush, John Smith's misogyny, Flo's comparison of her horrific upbringing to the Bellas' problems) and physical slapstick (the camp retreat, Fat Amy's canoeing song to Bumper) that works thanks to Banks' direction. The musical numbers aren't as long or prevalent in this sequel, the screenplay plays up the comedic aspect more, and I found just as many quotable lines here as I did in the first film.

"Pitch Perfect 2" does leave the door open for a third installment, but unless the majority of the cast returns, the series might start resembling straight-to-video sequels that are barely related to these likable first two films. In the meantime, if you liked the first one, you'll like this one. (* * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Pitch Perfect 2