Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pitch Perfect 2

There's a subculture that worships the first Pitch Perfect, and I am by no means a member of that group. I thought the original was fine, a nice underdog sports comedy in which the sport is singing — a cappella style. So I was almost shocked to discover that I actually like Pitch Perfect 2, a film I wasn't particularly excited about seeing in the first place. But that's the great thing about movies: sometimes they can surprise you.

Pitch Perfect 2
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld

After an embarrassing incident in which Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) accidentally flashes President Obama (don't ask), the Barden University Bellas are suspended from all national singing competitions. They're still eligible for the world a cappella championships, but to win, they'll have to beat the comically evil German national team, Das Sound Machine. Meanwhile, Beca (Anna Kendrick) has taken a job as an intern at a recording studio but is keeping her new gig secret from the rest of the girls. She feels they won't handle the news well because it means confronting the fact that they're going to graduate soon, get jobs, and move on with their lives. That's pretty much it as far as set-up goes — these movies aren't exactly head-scratchers.

The major reason I like this film more than the first is that the original was saddled with a boring love story. Watching Beca and Jesse (Skylar Astin) fall for each other didn't really do anything for me because Astin isn't a compelling presence unless he's crooning with his all-male group The Treblemakers. Thankfully, he barely shows up at all here, and the main thrust of the story surrounds Beca's attempt to find her musical identity. The mash-ups that excited everyone so much in the first film fail to impress her perpetually frustrated record producer boss (Keegan-Michael Key, the film's unexpected MVP), who tells her she needs a perspective of her own instead of just smashing two songs together. Luckily, a
 new girl named Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) joins the group, and she just so happens to love writing lyrics for original songs. I think you can see where this is heading.

Even though every story beat is telegraphed, the film concentrates more on the sisterhood of the Bellas and the group dynamic, with the girls' journey paralleling Beca's as they try find their voice in order to best the condescending Germans. (This rivalry is basically Beerfest with a cappella.) Each of the main girls has a moment to shine, both comedically and musically, and despite about half of the jokes falling flat for me, the rest worked pretty well. There's a subplot about Fat Amy and Bumper (Adam Devine) getting it on, but that's mostly relegated to a few minutes of screentime and isn't quite as tiresome as Beca and Jesse's courtship was the first time around.

Elizabeth Banks, who makes her feature directorial debut here, also returns in front of the camera alongside John Michael Higgins as this franchise's equivalent of Dodgeball's Cotton McKnight and Pepper Brooks, the two announcers who give play-by-play commentary of each performance. They're there to provide some off-color jokes (many of which are cringe-inducing*) and on-the-nose recitations of the movie's main themes including, "It's as if the Barden Bellas just don't know who they are anymore." Thanks, we get it. Behind the camera, though, Banks has a good handle on what's important in this film — the music — and all of the singing scenes work extremely well. There's an especially excellent sequence in the middle of the movie in which all of the teams get called to a secret a cappella sing-off in the basement of a mysterious rich guy (David Cross).

Overall, if you liked the first one, chances are pretty great that you'll find a lot to like here. If you're like me and you found the original to be a little too cutesy, I think if you go into this one with low expectations, you might find yourself surprised. Pitch Perfect 2 doesn't quite hit every individual note, but as a whole, the piece sounds pretty darn good.

*Even though most of their jokes didn't work for me, Higgins' character delivers my favorite joke of the whole movie near the end, so I can't write them off completely.

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