Pitch Perfect 2 – A Review

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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.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Get Out the Broom Edition

So the Yankees lost again last night, putting them one more loss away from elimination. At this point I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they are swept by the Tigers – even though our ace C.C. Sabathia is pitching tonight, he probably won’t get any run support. This team makes me mad.

Only one team has ever come back from this sort of deficit to make it to the World Series – the 2004 Boston Red Sox, after what is often referred to as one of the biggest chokes in sports. The team that collapsed, allowing the Red Sox to go on and end their World Series drought, taking away my favorite sports chant of all time (“1918”)?

The New York Yankees. Sigh.

On to more positive things. Here’s your biweekly roundup of pop culture stories you may have missed.

  • Questlove of The Roots and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon will be teaching a class at NYU.
  • R. Kelly is bringing you twenty more chapters of Trapped in the Closet. I’ve got some catching up to do.
  • The trailer for the wholly unnecessary Carrie remake has been released:

 

  • I don’t normally watch Raising Hope, but this might be enough to get me to tune in – Christopher Lloyd will make an appearance in a DeLorean. Great Scott!
  • Jim Carey is in discussions with Lorne Michaels (SNL) to star in Loomis Fargo, based on a real life armored car heist.
  • Marinate on this – Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers is 50.
  • This weekend during football, one TV at the bar was turned to Felix Baumgartner’s space jump. It wasn’t all that impressive and seemed like a tremendous waste of money. But if you missed it, you can check out the Lego recreation:

 

  • Bill Murray continues to live an awesome life – he recently crashed a kickball league. He also loves the movie Roadhouse. He is full of surprises.
  • Imagine this – you go to get on the subway in NYC and there is Rick Springfield leading a sing-a-long of “Jessie’s Girl.” That’s what happened last Wednesday. I like the song, especially for its proper use of the word moot.
  • The New Yorker has a profile of historical fiction writer Hilary Mantel. I had trouble getting into Wolf Hall, but I’m determined to revisit and and see if a second attempt goes more smoothly. Her choice to write in the third person was a challenge for me, but since I am fascinated by this time period, it’s worth another go.
  • Grub Street has compiled the best lines from the roast of Anthony Bourdain (they roast chefs? There has got to be a joke in there somewhere).
  • Speaking of Bourdain, the finale of No Reservations (airing on November 5th) finds Bourdain sampling the cuisine of Brooklyn (Crown Heights) with his special tour guide Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire)
  • It’s a pairing that has been fruitful in the past – Ben Affleck is in talks to adapt the newest Dennis Lehane novel, Live By Night. Affleck made his directorial debut with another Lehane adaptation, Gone Baby Gone.
  • Presented without comment – they are making a new version of Little Rascals featuring one of the little girls from Toddlers and Tiaras (NOT Honey Boo Boo)
  • As if I wasn’t already excited enough for the premiere of American Horror Story tonight, Ian McShane (Deadwood’s Al Swearengen) will be appearing this season.
  • You can stream the new Kanye West song “White Dress” online. It will appear on the upcoming soundtrack for the film The Man With the Iron Fists.
  • ABC is going to make a comedy starring Michael Bolton. Yes – THAT Michael Bolton who is, in the words of Office Space, a “no talent ass-clown.”
  • Someone put together a supercut of celebrities that have appeared on the various Law & Order franchises:

 

  • R.I.P. Alex Karras. Though he was probably best known as a longtime member of the Detroit Lions football team, he will always be Webster’s dad to me.
  • This really needs no further explanation  – Christopher Walken reads lines from Honey Boo Boo:

 

  • Rebel Wilson has landed a deal to write, act and produce a yet untitled project at Universal.
  • This sounds like one of the levels of hell to me, but Regal Cinemas are doing an all-day marathon of all the Twilight movies for $20 on November 15 to coincide with the release of the final film.
  • It’s only one episode into the third season, but I already feel like Walking Dead has fixed some of the problems that plagued the second season. I’m cautiously optimistic.
  • File this under totally random – Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) and Pierce Brosnan were hanging out together at a Radiohead concert.
  • Amber Tamblyn and David Cross were married last week at what looks to be a pretty cool wedding. Even though I was too old for the books or the movies, I somehow think it’s nice that all the girls from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants films attended.
  • At a recent Peter Gabriel concert at the Hollywood Bowl, John Cusack came on stage and handed Gabriel a boom box during “In Your Eyes.” Awesome.
  • Mario Lopez and Khloe Kardashian-Odom will join the X-Factor as hosts. Still not watching.
  • Snoop Dogg Lion is now a spokesman for hot pockets

Hard to believe this guy was once on trial for murder. This may be the most non-gangsta thing I’ve ever seen.

  • Harper Lee, the author of my favorite book To Kill a Mockingbird, penned a letter to Oprah about her love of books. This reminds me that I am overdue for another read through of this classic.
  • Since the last round up, another celebrity couple has decided to separate – Rhea Perlman and Danny DeVito call it quits after 30 years of marriage.
  • Hugh Jackman, dressed as Wolverine, doing “Gangnam Style” with Psy – it happened!
  • Tunes by Frank Sinatra and Adele make the list of most requested funeral songs. Is this a British thing? I don’t think I’ve ever been at a funeral where there were pop songs played. Is this something I should be worrying about?
  • Someone made a documentary about the 80s television show (and Nickelodeon staple) You Can’t Do That on Television. Why? I don’t know. *slime*
  • I’m on a quest to try the limited edition Candy Corn Oreos, but can’t seem to find them anyplace. I refuse to order them online, as they were $12 a package and I’m sure they aren’t that good. If anyone seems them in the Capital Region, let me know.
  • And finally, someone wrote a love song that is chock full of Arrested Development references:

Sneak Peek – Pitch Perfect

The main thing you need to know about Pitch Perfect, opening nationwide tomorrow, is that it isn’t Glee. When I told people that I was going to a screening of Pitch Perfect, I’d get blank stares and then a flicker of recognition. “Oh,” they’d say “that’s the Glee movie.”

It’s an easy assumption to make; both projects prominently feature singing groups that are on the outside fringes of popularity. One takes place in the hall of McKinley High and chronicles the hijinx and melodrama of the glee club. The other follows an a cappella group at Barden College, trying to recover from an embarrassing incident during a performance the year before. The end game in both is to compete in Nationals. Both prominently feature mash-ups of current songs. Both groups help their members find a place to fit in and find a sense of belonging. And Lord knows that Hollywood likes to cash in on whatever is popular.

But then the similarities end. Because Pitch Perfect is actually good and very funny (sorry Gleeks, but Glee is not).

Pitch Perfect stars Anna Kendrick as Beca, a girl who dreams of becoming a DJ but who has been told by her estranged father that she needs to get a college education first. In Beca’s mind, all that means is that she needs to show up to fulfill this obligation; if she happens to flunk out along the way or never leave her bubble of her headphones and music, so be it. He frustrated father offers her a deal – give it one year and truly embrace the college experience. Become part of the community and get involved in extracurricular activities and go to class. If she still hates it, he’ll help her move and try her hand at being a professional DJ. Enter the Barden Bellas, the college’s all female a cappella group that is in desperate need of new membership and a new reputation after their disastrous showing at Nationals the previous year. They will take just about anyone that can sing, resulting in quite a ragtag assortment of women. Hilarity ensues.

Kendrick has built herself a pretty solid acting resume (Up in the Air, 50/50, the tremendously underrated Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), so it is not surprising that she is very good as the film’s protagonist. Beca’s on a bit of journey in the film and Kendrick plays all that early adulthood angst and uncertainty very well. Her relationship with her possible love interest (there is always a possible love interest in these types of movies) is very sweet and realistic. She is also a surprisingly good singer.

But though she is the star and is very good, this isn’t Kendrick’s movie. This movie is owned by one of the supporting players, Rebel Wilson, who is screamingly funny in the role of fellow Bella member Fat Amy.

Wilson isn’t a household name yet, but I think that is going to change sooner rather than later. I first took notice of her in her small role in Bridesmaids as one of Kristin Wiig’s roommates. She didn’t have many scenes in that film, but she made the most of them and made that minor character instantly memorable. She does the same thing in Pitch Perfect, but on a much larger scale. She reminds me a lot of Melissa McCarthy in her complete commitment to the wacky role and she seems like she would be game for just about anything if she thought it would get a laugh. She easily gets the biggest laughs of the film and any scene where she is featured is immediately more exciting just because of the potential of what she might do. She just has great timing and delivery. I think she is positioned to breakout soon and become a star.

The rest of the supporting cast is very good as well. Anna Camp and Brittany Snow play off each other well as the only returning members of the Bellas. As Lily (a “low talker” in the Seinfeld vernacular), Hana Mae Lee has some great non sequiturs. It’s not just the girls that are great; the few male characters that are developed are good as well. Skylar Astin was charming as Beca’s possible love interest Jesse and newcomer Ben Platt was wonderfully weird as Jesse’s roommate Benji. Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are reliably humorous as the color commentators for the a cappella competitions (an idea that in and of itself is pretty funny).

Not only is the movie very amusing, but I also enjoyed the musical performances quite a bit as well. The one thing I generally did like on Glee was the singing and Pitch Perfect features lots of great songs. Who doesn’t love a good mash-up? I particularly enjoyed the riff-off that the various a cappella groups at Barden had. My favorite Kelly Clarkson song “Since You’ve Been Gone” is also featured prominently in the film, so that made me happy. In this day in age you can never tell if the actors are actually singing (though I think faking a cappella is a little harder), but this seems to be a fairly musically talented group.

All of these good points are not to say that the film is not fairly predictable. It definitely is in a lot of ways. Pitch Perfect is a straight up musical comedy, so if you are looking for some real deep soul searching or realistic solutions to problems, you are in the wrong place. The dialogue tries a little too hard in some places to be cute. But the cast handles the material so well that I didn’t even mind that they story was pretty much dictated by the first few scenes. I was laughing too hard to really care.

Some other thoughts:

  • I generally don’t like puns, but I make exceptions for restaurants (as a kid I wanted to open a Chinese Restaurant called “Wok this Way”), fantasy sports teams (“Wherever I May Romo”) and a cappella groups. So it made me smile that the other dominant signing group at the school is called the Treblemakers.
  • I thought I was the only one that noticed that Beca wore chipped off nail polish in the film, but it turns out that I wasn’t. I’d love if that became a trend again, since as I type this I am looking at some fingers in desperate need of new polish.
  • I’ll admit it – I like Miley Cyrus’ song “Party in the USA.”
  • I have a friend who looks amazingly like Anna Kendrick, so even though I enjoy the actress it messes with my head a bit (and yes, CP, if you are reading, I’m talking about you)
  • If you suffer from emetophobia, you may want to skip this film. Just saying.
  • I was surprisingly not annoyed with my fellow movie goers at this screening – no infants, no cell phones, no annoying chatter during the film. Well done, people!

Pitch Perfect is a fun little movie – it won’t change the world and it isn’t going to win any awards. But if you go into the theater and just want to have a good time, you shouldn’t be disappointed. Pitch Perfect may hit a false note every once in a while with its predictability and trying-too-hard dialogue, but the laughter in the theater will make it less noticeable. Pitch Perfect was a pleasant little surprise.