The original Pitch Perfect may have been a product of the Glee-revolution but was shockingly much more than that. Gone was the ridiculous melodrama of the Fox-sitcom replaced with gleeful comedic mayhem – led by a diverse cast of women embracing the bizarre world of underground, college a capella groups. Who knew such a marginalized piece of the college experience could be so ripe for hilarity? Well Pitch Perfect went on to be a surprise hit that has garnered a massive following in the years that followed. The sequel was inevitable but lucky for us it nearly recaptures the spark of the original, even with a minor misstep or two along the way.
Pitch Perfect 2 begins where else but at President Obama’s birthday (amateur a capella in this world is absurdly respected.) The Barden Bellas are performing for the crowd coming off a 3-peat in the national championships. The ladies couldn’t be more respected. That is, until it all goes up in flames. Mid-set during a stunt one could only describe as ridiculous, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) gets caught repelling from the ceiling only to expose her naughty bits to none other than our commander-in-chief.
This unfortunate wardrobe malfunction makes national news leaving the Bellas sulking back to their Sorority house, disgraced – hopefully with underwear on. They receive news from the hysterically offensive a capella announcers Gail (Elizabeth Banks) and John (John Michael Higgins) that unless they can win the world championship of a capella in Copenhagen the Bellas will be disbanded for their horrific slight against the President and dare I say…the country.
If it sounds like a thin plot that’s because it is. First time Director Elizabeth Banks knows the strength of this ensemble is their interactions and she gives them ample opportunity while preparing for the championship. The film takes the ladies on retreats, through rehearsal, to a capella frat parties and underground a capella competitions led by eccentric billionaires (David Cross…need I say more.)
The whole crew returns in one form or another. Anna Kendrick is back as Beca – the reluctant star of the first film who found her voice through her love of mash-ups. This time around she is secretly interning at a recording studio (led by a very funny Keegan-Michael Key) so not to upset the order of the Bellas and look as though she doesn’t care. She’s dating the uber-charismatic Jesse (Skylar Astin) – who leads the all-male group the Treble Makers.
But instead of pitting the Bellas against their all-male rivals a la the original, a new menace lurks. The Americans have never won the worlds because, as it’s eloquently put, everyone hates us. And standing in our way is DSM – Das Sound Machine – from Germany. The group is proficient, huge and soulless – about as German as they can get. They make for a fun adversary (there is a great running gag where Beca can’t insult the leader of the group because she’s simply too beautiful.)
The Bellas also add a legacy to the group named Emily Junk (Hailee Steinfeld) – her father’s last name was Hard-On so she didn’t have a lot of great last name options. Emily loves writing her own music which is frowned upon in the collegiate a capella world. As they put it, we spit on originals. But for the Bellas she could be a secret weapon.
Banks does her best to let each cast member have a moment and nearly succeeds. She stuffs the film so full of jokes and cameos that each time one didn’t land there were 3-4 more around the corner. The energy she brings as Director is what lifts the film’s final third as the sag of lip-synched performances threatens to sink the film’s momentum.
None of this really matters because Pitch Perfect 2 has monster hit written all over it. Banks has delivered exactly what fans of the first expected and that counts for a lot. Good comedies (let alone female driven ones) are tough to come by and this sequel mostly delivers on the originals promise. For fans of the Bellas, they’re back pitches.