Nutshell: The Barden Bellas are back, and still awesome? Well, kinda. Pitch Perfect 2 is a crazy, messy blend of songs, funky cameo appearances and strange subplots that will have you laughing out loud. But those moments can’t cover up a weak screenplay and weaker direction. Still, it’s able to pull itself together often enough to be an enjoyable, if not perfect, film for fans of the first film, and folks who won’t ask for much. Grade: B-
“What kind of white shit is this?”
Indeed, Cynthia Rose, indeed. The Barden Bellas, now three-time National Champions, are asked to perform for POTUS’s birthday celebration. Things do not go as planned (read: “Muffgate”.) Now humiliated and on the verge of being forever banned, the Bellas have one last shot; the International Championship. That’s not going to stop Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), a Legacy Bella, from trying to join. However, this is senior year for the Bellas, and at least one of the team has plans to move on after college (read: Beca’s got an internship with a talented music producer.) And then there’s the competition; a group of absurdly beautiful, completely self-absorbed Teutonic vocalists called Das Sound Machine. The Bellas have their work cut out for them.
Unfortunately, the script isn’t so cut and dry. In fact Kay Cannon’s screenplay feels like a dream board by a lovesick highschooler with ADD. There are so many subplots and offshoots that the film often loses focus. Let’s roll-call ’em, shall we?
- a super-secret acapella “Laser Ninja Dragon League” singoff, hosted by a guy with more dollars than sense. (David Cross)
- a talented but completely crazy music producer who serves as Beca’s mentor. (Keegan-Michael Key)
- Emily’s mother Katherine, former Bella and creator of a famous booty shimmer…that we never get to see. (Katey Sagal)
- Acapella commentators John and Gail, being even more inappropriate than in the first film. (John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks)
- Fat Amy’s hate-boink Bumper (Adam DeVine), tries to take their relationship to the next level while settling in as a new campus security guard.
- Former Bella Aubrey (Anna Camp) hosting the Bellas at her team-building retreat.
- Snoop Lion recording his Christmas album.
- Benji becomes enamored of Emily and acts like a toddler with a concussion.
- Oh god I need all the beer.
Storylines, cameos and characters from the first film are thrown at viewers with lightning speed; by the time you recognize who someone is, it’s off to the next thing. Nothing sticks around long enough to click beyond a joke or two. (Though Fat Amy’s “We Belong” solo breaks the trend and lingers for a bit too long in proportion to the rest of the speedway of stories.) Halfway through I felt like someone had slipped E into my water bottle. I knew where I was, I knew I was having a good time, but I didn’t understand a bloody thing that was going on.
Missed opportunities hang onto this film like fruit one day too long on the tree. Beca and Jesse barely get any screentime as a couple. Fat Amy and Bumper rock, and Benji and Emily are adorable, but these romances feel like more things that could have been jettisoned/pared down in order to focus on a more cohesive plot. Where’s Emily/Hailee’s big number, where we get to see her chops in full effect? On the cutting room floor, apparently. And while Sagal is trotted out as a former Bella and her first scene feels like we’ll get to see more of her, she’s barely onscreen and we never get to hear her voice (even though the actress has an amazing set of pipes.)
Director Elizabeth Banks may have her heart in the right place, but she’s unable to focus on a coherent storyline and get that story across. Instead, Pitch Perfect 2 gets lost in wave after wave of new scenes with new people doing new things. The core Bellas seem to be thrown into the mix just to keep fans on their toes. By the time the competition comes around, it barely makes a difference. (Or a ripple in the story; the competition is a series of montages, the obligatory but incredible performance by the Bellas, and then a cut to graduation.) Pitch Perfect 2 isn’t so much a film as it is a loving tribute to/for fans of the first film. You liked Pitch Perfect? Then woohoo — we’ve got more stuff, y’all!
That’s not to say that I didn’t like the film. In fact, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Why did I have fun during Pitch Perfect 2? Because it got me to laugh myself sick. Because I’m a huge fan of the first film, so I could jump right in. Because I could see where this story was going from early on, and I got the goosebumps anyway. Because 100% less vomit! But I can’t get past the mess of a script. Just can’t.
But oh, the songs! “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy”, “Timber”, “Wrecking Ball”, “Lady Marmalade”, “MMMBop”, “Never Gonna Get It”, and a mashup of “Winter Wonderland” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” that I want on my holiday playlist. The original song “Flashlight” is primed as the “Cups” of PP2, and it’s got great potential. It’s tough to capture lightning in a bottle though. Especially if you just made a wobbly bottle.
And that’s the main problem with Pitch Perfect 2; it forgets it’s roots, in the hopes of becoming another insta-hit. If a sequel plays too much to fans of the first film, it’s got to work twice as hard to become it’s own kind of awesome. Pitch Perfect 2 simply hopes you like the original enough to go for more. That’s not enough.