Aca-exactly what you'd expect: the low impact joy of Pitch Perfect 2
The original Pitch Perfect was an unexpected phenomenon back in 2012 – a modestly budgeted girl power underdog story that won hearts and went viral the world over. Naturally a follow up was immediately put in the works, and Pitch Perfect 2 is a charming sequel that is sure to delight fans of the original but is unlikely to win over any new admirers.
After an unfortunate international incident, reigning aca-champions the Barden Bellas are risking dissolution if they don’t take home the gold at the world championships – where they're up against German wunderkinds Das Sound Machine. But there's plenty of other stuff going on as well – Beca (Anna Kendrick) is chasing her music industry dream by way of an internship at a hip music studio, new recruit Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) is psyched to be part of the group her mum (Katey Sagal) once belonged to, and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and Bumper (Adam Devine) might just end up together.
Honestly, there's way too much stuff going on. Pitch Perfect 2 crams its two-hour run time to the brim, with the romantic subplots between Fat Amy and Bumper, and Emily and magic nerd Benji, easily the most superfluous events. Oddly enough, the film doesn’t glean any drama from the romance between Beca and Jesse that dominated proceedings the first time around – but it's not missed in the least.
I read the book on which the film is based – Mickey Rapkin's Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory – shortly after the release of the first film, and it's a fascinating exploration of the microcosm of collegiate a cappella. While a journalistic account of this world, like Nancy Jo Sales covering the story of the Bling Ring, it’s easy to see how someone imagined a movie springing into life from the pages. Pitch Perfect 2 loses a little of the spark from Rapkin’s novel, while introducing a few more of its talking points into the mix. The most interesting of these, by far, is the legacy that these illustrious a cappella groups possess – almost completely monopolizing the college years of their members, and crafting a lifelong bond that is passed down through generations. Unfortunately, the film squanders any depth to this theme in a couple of throwaway scenes – opting instead not to get too serious.
Kay Cannon’s screenplay matches the first film’s offbeat humour, but is oddly lazy in its execution of certain bits of comedy. Pitch Perfect 2 is at its worst when it plays stereotypes for laughs – the undocumented immigrant and the butch lesbian are Cannon’s worst offenders. The writing is consistently much better than this, and these running gags feel lazy, out of place and painfully unfunny. Thankfully, Elizabeth Banks – in the director's chair – picks up the slack and absolutely nails it, balancing humour and heart like a pro and never once letting the film slow down.
But let's be honest, what matters the most here is the music – and there’s plenty of it, coming much thicker and faster than in the first film. The arrangements are on point and going international means more singers and more variety, which keeps the proceedings moving at an upbeat tempo. Anna Kendrick – in her third musical role of the past six months – proves why she’s the go-to girl for this sort of thing: she’s got the vocal chops and comedic timing that carry the film with ease. The entire cast is universally excellent – even slightly miscast newcomer Hailee Steinfeld holds her own, while Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins returning as the choral commentators, and a mightily impressive roster of cameos that I won’t spoil here consistently provide stellar moments.
As a critic, I could nitpick any number of things 'wrong' with Pitch Perfect 2 – but I had such a fun time watching it that any of its shortcomings couldn't be less relevant. It's the type of film Hollywood doesn't bring us all that often – original, offbeat, and completely charming. Pitch Perfect 2 lives up to the promise of its original, and delivers a great time in the process – aca-believe it.