Published Sep 22, 2015When Pitch Perfect 2 opens, the Barden Bellas, coming off their win at a national a cappella contest, are performing at the Lincoln Center for, amongst hundreds of others, Barack and Michelle Obama. Though the performance is initially going well, with the girls doing their usual choreographed dance routine while blending songs with a similar beat progression, a wardrobe malfunction leaves Fat Amy's (Rebel Wilson) nether regions exposed while suspended in the air, unable to cover it up. This leads to their inevitable suspension (in North America, graphic dismemberment is fine but human genitals are horrifying) and the central plot device for this breezy, mindlessly entertaining, sequel: an international singing competition complete with smug German antagonists.
Smartly, this sequel doesn't attempt to reinvent the wheel. All of the functioning elements from the original sleeper hit are there — an abundance of animated musical performances and occasionally raunchy, mostly abstract, self-deprecating humour — with an observed effort to focus on offering more of what proved successful. This means more performances, more Fat Amy and less actual plot.
While sacrificing plot, or, in this case, genuinely not caring about it, would normally be a dreadfully distancing decision, it works well enough here. The existing roster of characters — the highly talented and inadvertently complimentary Beca (Anna Kendrick); the enthusiastic and slightly dim Chloe (Brittany Snow); the extremely soft-spoken Lilly (Hana Mae Lee); and obviously, the crass and wildly inappropriate Fat Amy — have an engaging built-in dynamic, even when they aren't singing a medley of well-considered pop songs. And the new addition — the socially awkward Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), an aspiring songwriter with a propensity for spewing weirdly scatological and prurient information when nervous — simply helps carry on the momentum of the a cappella template to a younger generation, noting that the original Pitch Perfect cast is getting ready to graduate from college.
What's somewhat problematic about this otherwise fun little diversion is its presentation of gender. Though Beca's sub-journey here is one of career ambition, taking an interning job at a music studio and learning that mash-ups really aren't the be-all-and-end-all of music, every other subplot and diversion is preoccupied with romantic partnering. It's as though these girls really don't have a great deal of ambition outside of singing and finding a suitable husband, and while nothing about Pitch Perfect 2 resembles any sort of reality (none of these undergrads assert wildly idealistic and hilarious impractical worldviews that will inevitably crash down when they get a bit of perspective on things), this is one of the few movies to feature leads that are almost entirely female. If the trajectory of the plot presents them as heroes, winning championships for dancing around on a stage, their secondary motivators — coupling — then become aspirational priorities for the target demographic of similarly aged young women.
It's clear that this is just an unintentional effect of formulaic writing, however. The focus here is obviously on writing more bizarrely conceived humour and setting up choreographed musical numbers. Unfortunately, the lazy, default response is simply to reduce each character to an ambition-free romantic. Surely comedy can stem from other, less marketable, priorities.
Another issue is Banks' direction. She knows enough about comedy to step back from the antics and allow them unfold without trying to exaggerate the punch line, but the coverage is frequently incompetent, showing the backs of heads or poorly framed cut-shots in expository scenes. The sweeping crane shots covering the musical numbers are fine for what they are, but in basic assembly, there's very little vision and really no consideration of how the scenes will edit together.
Despite the outdated presentation of gender and Banks' lack of experience with feature-length filmmaking, though, this sequel succeeds in its aims. It's just as satisfying as the original movie and has an infectiously uplifting spirit. Hopefully, this will continue into the third instalment.
The Blu-ray release includes many extended musical sequences and some outtakes, such as a failed gag between Fat Amy and a German singing about "fahting" (farting) and some extras about Snoop Dogg.