Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Comedy, Music
Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, Katey Segal, Anna Camp, Ben Platt, Alexis Knapp, Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean, David Cross, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Banks
Written by Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect, 30 Rock)
Directed by Elizabeth Banks (feature-film debut)
When Pitch Perfect was released in 2012, it was one of the most surprising comedy hits of the past decade. What looked to be a painful, teenage, Glee-inspired romp, ended up being on of the best and funniest films of that year. It's amazing how much you can like a movie when you enter into the theater with the lowest of low expectations. That brings us to the sequel, Pitch Perfect 2 (opening today), which comes with much higher expectations this time around. Inevitably, it doesn't seem quite as good as the original due to these high hopes, but it surprisingly matches the goofy vibe of its predecessor.
Much of the credit has to go to writer Kay Cannon, who wrote the first film as well. Cannon is a 30 Rock veteran, and anyone familiar with that show can identify her brand of humor. Once you can lock into her "don't take things too seriously," sarcastic, smarmy tone, you will find yourself thoroughly entertained. This, matched with the fact that the Barden Bellas are a group of girls that we don't mind spending a bit more time with.
Now a senior, aspiring music producer and stand-out Bella, Beca (Anna Kendrick), is approaching that crossroad that all college kids come to at some point: What does the future hold? Since the first film, the Bellas have gone on to national success, but a hilarious mishap on stage, while performing for President Obama, has cost the Bellas their reputation and possibly their group's existence. In a plot right out of any 80s teenage comedy, the Bellas convince their aca-leaders to allow them one more shot: If they can win at the world acapella championships, their group can remain on campus. But of course, there is no way they can win...
Many, if not all, of the Bellas from the first film return, with Chloe (Brittany Snow), Stacie (Alexis Knapp), Cynthia (Ester Dean), Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) and of course, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), who once again steals every scene she's in. The "TrebleMaker" boys (Skylar Astin's Jesse and Ben Platt's Benji) are back as well, although they are mostly reduced to cheering for the Bellas from afar. Bumper (Adam Devine) is back and falls for Fat Amy, and the over-aged "Tone Hangers" (made up of Reggie Watts, Joe Le Truglio, Jason Jones and John Hodgman) return as well. Then make sure to brace yourselves for the returning aca-announcer duo, John and Gail (John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks, who also directs), who are happily given more air-time this go-around, and who push the limits of what offensive banter sounds like.
What makes the party even more fun is the introduction of a few new characters. Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) is the newest "legacy" recruit, and the heir apparent to the film franchise, one would think. Keegan-Michael Key (of Key & Peele) is fantastic as Beca's music-producer boss, who can't stop making an example of his hipster employee, Dax (Shawn Carter Peterson). Then there is new Bella, Flo (Chrissy Fit), who is from South America, and whose horrible upbringing helps put the Bella's problems in hilarious perspective. Throw in David Cross as an aca-enthusiast Fight Club-style MC and there are more than a few breaths of fresh air introduced.
All of this adds up to a pretty silly, predictable plot, but if you come to Pitch Perfect 2 for the story, well, there isn't much that can be done to help you. But the comedy is sharp, the musical numbers are pretty inventive and entertaining, and oh, that Fat Amy. A sequence where she confesses her love, singing Pat Benatar's "We Belong" while rowing a canoe across a lake, is one of the film's stand-outs. Did I mention that David Cross runs an acapella Fight Club?
Also, in true Kay Cannon-style, she slyly includes some self-aware shots at the film itself: The idea that nobody outside of this world could care less about acapella singing competitions, and the conflict that Beca has dealing with needing to find her true voice, where "original" work is the only kind that will be noticed in the end. She seems to be commenting on the film itself, and hinting at the pitfalls of getting wrapped up in things that don't really matter all that much, when all is said and done.
Despite the use of some pretty egregious stereotypes and a less-than-original story, Pitch Perfect 2 was just as funny as the original, with just as much heart, proving that this aca-franchise is definitely not a one-hit wonder. That being said though, it's hard to imagine where things would go from here...but how about a John and Gail spin-off? Now that would be music to my ears.
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