Film Review: “Pitch Perfect 2”

Pitch Perfect 2 is too long, makes lots of mistakes that sequels commonly make, and for every clever one-liner or hilarious set-up that works features a gag that falls flat.

But the music still soars, the mash-up mixes still rock, and the cast still looks like they’re having a blast this second time through. Those factors together save the film from being far worse than it could have been — it’s cute, sentimental fluff, no doubt, but it’s musically fun fluff.

It’s been three years since the Barden University Bellas won the first of their three straight national a capella championships, and the group, now led by seniors Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick), Chloe Beale (Brittany Snow), and Patricia “Fat Amy” (Rebel Wilson), stand on top of the U.S. competitive a capella singing world. That is, until quite possibly the most catastrophic wardrobe malfunction in the history of their sport during a live performance in front of none other than the nation’s Commander-in-Chief and the First Lady gets the group kicked off of their annual victory tour and banned from collegiate competition and recruiting. Their only road to redemption? Win at the World A Capella Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, a competition that no American group has ever won.

But the World Championships, and the German übergroup Das Sound Machine that are the current champs and sound well nigh unbeatable, are just a few of the obstacles facing the Bellas this time. To Chloe, who keeps finding ways to not graduate in order to remain part of the group, cleaning the stain from the Barden Bellas name means everything. But for Beca, who has her eyes set on taking the next step in her music producer career after graduation, there are bigger concerns, like the real possibility that she might not be talented or inspired enough to make it in her chosen profession. The rest of the group has their own problems, too: Fat Amy has to decide just how far her new on-the-down-low relationship with Bumper (Adam DeVine), the former leader of Barden’s male a capella group, the Treblemakers, can go without tying her down; and Emily (Hailee Steinsfeld), the newest Bella, struggles with finding her place and voice in the group while they’re all so preoccupied with how to match up with Das Sound Machine and their own personal dramas.

What will it take to help the Bellas re-discover their unity and their voice when they’ve clearly lost their way? Will the chance to restore friendship and take love to greater heights be enough to bring these Barden sisters back together in time to overcome their greatest challenge?

Come on. It’s a feel-good competition sequel: what do you think?

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Elizabeth Banks, who was a producer on the original film as well as playing a small role in front of the camera as a capella commentator/podcaster Gail Abernathy-McKadden, returns to those roles again for the sequel and also takes up directorial duties for Pitch Perfect 2, and so where the film falls short ultimately falls on her shoulders. To be fair, though, the script from Kay Cannon (30 Rock), who penned the first film and also has a producer credit here, doesn’t do Banks or the cast any favors. In addition to including for no discernible reason a surprising number of ethnic jokes in the mix (new character “Flo” Fuentes, played by Chrissie Fit, seems like she’s there just to deliver punchlines based on Hispanic stereotypes, for example), it seems to dogmatically follow a “bad sequel by numbers” formula. Essentially the same plot structure as the original? Check. Obligatory romantic sub-plot focused on a different member of the ensemble than part 1? Check. “Surprise” returns by characters from the first film to help save the day? Check. Group heart-to-heart to rally the troops before the final competition? Check.  Imagine Major League 2, subbing singing for baseball, and you might begin to see just where and how this film goes wrong.

All that said, there’s no denying that the music and performances here work so well that one can forgive some of the film’s other faults. There’s so much charisma, singing talent and energy on display during each of the film’s many group performances that you can’t help but smile and dance a little in your seat while watching. Watch for some great cameos, too — who knew Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers could sing? — and also an appearance by Katey Sagal playing a mom that actually has some real parenting skills — sorry, Peggy Bundy and Gemma Morrow fans. In addition, Hailee Steinfeld, who has been wowing audiences since 2010’s True Grit, also stands out among the cast newcomers, demonstrating in yet another film that she’s truly one of Hollywood’s most charismatic and talented young stars on the rise.

So to be clear, what’s “good” in Pitch Perfect 2 is actually very good, maybe even good enough to make the film worthwhile if you’re a die-hard fan of the first film or of musical performance. But there’s just too much that’s “meh” or plain not good, most of which derives from trying to replicate everything in the original that made it such vibrant fun, and it’s those lackluster elements in bunches that ultimately doom the film to disappoint just about anyone else.

Pitch Perfect 2
Starring Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, Katey Sagal, Anna Camp, Ben Platt, Alexis Knapp, Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean, Chrissie Fit, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Flula Borg, Kelley Jakle, Shelley Regner, with John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks. Directed by Elizabeth Banks.
Running Time: 115 minutes
Rated PG-13 for innuendo and language.

Felix Albuerne
Felix Albuerne
One-time Blockbuster Video manager, textbook editor, trivia host, and community college English/Humanities teacher. Now a digital media producer, part-time film critic, amateur foodie, semi-retired beer snob, unabashed geek, and still very much a work in progress.