Back when the original Pitch Perfect movie debuted in 2012, it was a surprise hit. No one expected very much from a movie about a group of kids in a cappella. No one knew if Anna Kendrick could actually sing. Most people had no idea who Rebel Wilson was. As I wrote in my original review, people just assumed that Pitch Perfect was Glee: The Movie. The fact that it was as sweet and uproariously funny took pretty much everyone off guard. It exceeded all expectations and was one of my favorite films that year. It was just a lot of fun.
A lot has changed since 2012 – Anna Kendrick now sings in pretty much every movie that she’s been in lately and even had a hit song on the radio. Everyone know who Rebel Wilson is and expects big laughs from her. And the Pitch Perfect franchise was no longer the little engine that could. After the knockout success of the first movie, people were anxiously awaiting the follow up. The sequel did not have the luxury of lowered expectations. Everyone knows who the Barden Bellas are now.
Like almost every sequel ever made, Pitch Perfect 2 doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor. It’s still a fun little movie and the musical performances are completely on point and engaging, but it’s a little too much of the same thing. Pitch Perfect 2 is a victim of its predecessor’s success; it is hard to recapture that magic in the bottle that made the first movie so thrilling. There are laughs to be had and these are characters that are fun to spend time with so the sequel still works, just not as well as the original.
As the movie begins, The Bellas are now three-time national a cappella champions. They are sitting pretty until a wardrobe malfunction at a high profile gig once again makes them a laughing stock and results in them being banned from competition in the U.S. Their one chance at redemption is to win at the World A Capella Championship; if they can defeat the German team that has built itself a dynasty at these competitions, The Bellas are back in business. Fail, and The Bellas will be forced to disband. This storyline in and of itself should have been enough to carry the movie, but Pitch Perfect 2 is also juggling various other plots as well. Beca (Kendrick) has graduated from wanting to be a DJ to wanting to be a record producer and has secretly secured herself an internship that has taken her focus off The Bellas. Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) faces a relationship crossroads. The Bellas have also gained a new member in the form of a legacy; Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) is a freshman who has dreamed of becoming a Bella, in part because her mother (Katey Sagal) was a member. That means that there is an awful lot going on in Pitch Perfect 2 and not enough time to really focus on any of these storylines fully. The result is a movie that feels a little disjointed and slapped together, as we jump between all these plots that don’t really every mesh.
For me, the biggest issue was the story of the legacy Bella Emily. I have liked a lot of Hailee Steinfeld’s work in previous roles – she was particularly fantastic in True Grit – but her character absolutely didn’t work for me. Like, at all. I think part of the issue is that since they didn’t really have time to develop her character, her main note to play was eagerness. She was really, really eager. She made Anne Hathaway look like nonchalant. The only part of her storyline that I really enjoyed was that it meant some moments with the always fabulous Katey Segal. Otherwise, that whole plot just was a distraction for me and took precious time away from the bazillion other storylines that were simultaneously occurring.
I was also a little bummed out that Jesse (Skylar Astin) and the rest of the Treblemakers were mostly marginalized in the film. One of the sweetest parts of Pitch Perfect was the burgeoning romance between Beca and Jesse. They are still together in Pitch Perfect 2, but share very little screen time. Jesse feels to be included in the film out of obligation and has nothing to do except occasionally kiss Beca hello or goodbye and say “that’s my girl.” Some of the other individual Treblemakers members (Benji and Bumper) are giving a slightly more to do, but as a group they are generally absent, which is too bad since their rivalry with The Bellas was a highlight of the first film. They were a much better foil for The Bellas than the one-note German team in the sequel.
Despite the issues that I had with the execution of Pitch Perfect 2, I still had a good time watching it. Not all of the jokes land – some of the stuff that was funny in the first film doesn’t feel as fresh in the second – but when they do there is plenty to laugh about. Rebel Wilson gets most of the best lines, but there are also some great cameos in the film that are very, very funny. I am STILL laughing about one group in particular that show up. Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are also back as a cappella announcers Gail and John and bring their inappropriate commenting with them. Their shtick is a little uneven, but still funny. There is less gross-out humor this time around – no one throws up – but the film doubles down on Fat Amy’s outrageous comments and other situational humor.
The musical performances continue to be the strongest part of the movie and there is more singing in Pitch Perfect 2 than I remember in Pitch Perfect. Y’all know that I love a good mashup and there are plenty of them in the film. I particularly enjoyed a medley of “Don’t Stop Believin” in several different languages. I don’t know that they have a breakout his like they did with “Cups,” but I thought all of the performances were fun and catchy. The original song that they feature isn’t much to write home about – it’s mostly forgettable but they try to sell it as better than it is – but the covers are all executed well.
I also have to tip my cap to Elizabeth Banks, who made her directorial debut with this film. She generally does a nice job and this is an impressive movie to cut your directorial teeth on given all the performances. There’s a lot to look at and she manages to capture all the action. I’ll be interested to see what she directs next.
All in all, Pitch Perfect 2 isn’t as good as Pitch Perfect, but that’s probably to be expected. The success of the original film set standards that it would be difficult for the sequel to match; while Pitch Perfect had the advantage of being a sleeper hit, Pitch Perfect 2 is burdened with a lot more hype. I think Pitch Perfect 2 tries to do too much, but it was still a fun little summer movie. There are lots of callbacks to the first film for loyal fans to enjoy and, most importantly, it is funny and does a nice job with the musical performances. I don’t know if Pitch Perfect 2 will resonate as well with viewers the second time around, but if you were a fan of the first film, there’s a lot here for you to enjoy. Pitch Perfect 2 can’t quite hit all the same high notes as its predecessor, but the film hits a familiar tune that’s easy to sing along with.