“Pitch Perfect 2”: a Suitable Encore

There was never a reason to expect the sequel to Pitch Perfect to be very innovative. If you thought that the first movie was a tired exploitation of the popularity of Glee with a half-hearted attempt at comedy, then that’s what you’ll get with this rendition. Similarly, if you were amused by the a cappella mash-ups of recognizable hits and idiosyncratic humor of the original, then you’ll find much in which to delight with this continuation. There are a definite nods to the original, and I feel like the weaker parts of the first installment were minimized with the sequel, resulting in a slightly better movie overall.

The story is a familiar one: the three-time champion a cappella group the Bellas are stripped of their right to compete after accidentally flashing the president of the United States at an event. Through a loop-hole, though, they are able to re-establish their legitimacy if they win the World Championship of a cappella singing, which the American team has never done. Despite how absurd this all sounds, the film takes plenty of breaks to allow a character or two to comment on how ridiculous this professional a cappella nonsense is, which I found quite amusing. The movie never really takes itself too seriously, and once again Elizabeth Banks and John-Michael Higgins show up in their announcers roles to provide some funny moments (far more than in the original, in fact).

I will also remark that as a directorial debut, Elizabeth Banks performs quite admirably. It is very easy for an actor/producer-turned director to struggle with pacing issues, directing the actors of the film, and flat shot compositions, especially with a sequel but Pitch Perfect 2 contains none of these. And, while I am aware that the original Pitch Perfect was very much the brainchild of Banks, this sequel has me very interested in watching her tackle something not featuring a cappella mashups. I was one of the dozens (dozens!) who actually liked Walk of Shame (12% on Rotten Tomatoes!), and I have always been a fan of Banks, so here’s to hoping she continues to succeed.

Finally, I will point out that while Rebel Wilson, Anna Kendrick, and the other Bellas each perform very well and have some funny lines, the cameos parts absolutely make this movie. David Cross injects some really weird energy into this film’s version of the a cappella singing party game (like the sing-off from the first film, only this is more structured and contains the Green Bay Packers, which played very well here to the Madison, Wisconsin crowd). Keegan-Michael Key probably steals the entire movie with his portrayal of a music producer that Becca is interning for, despite the fact that he has maybe four scenes.  And the two fuhrers of the major competition to the Bellas, Das Sound Machine, are both funny and energetic, though Becca’s struggle to appropriately insult them in light of her clear attraction to them does get a little tiresome.

Overall, Pitch Perfect 2 is an ensemble movie about ensemble singing. It was never going to be challenging or stray too far from what made the original successful, and its thematic offerings are the fairly bland and expected notions of friendship and working together (to be fair, you could say something similar about the other flagship sequel of this summer blockbuster season). But, I feel like this entry successfully trimmed some of the fat of the first film and played up the strengths. In particular, the relationship drama is toned way down, allowing us to focus more on interactions between good characters and other fun things. If you’ve seen the original and find yourself on the fence, I would actually recommend giving Pitch Perfect 2 a viewing, as it definitely has far more to offer than most comedy sequels.

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