by Philip Price
Back in October of 2012 I said that “Pitch Perfect” was pure formula if not damn entertaining formula and that formula worked to the tune of $115 million worldwide on a $17 million budget. This was not the real story though, what really catapulted “Pitch Perfect” into the realm of cultural phenomenon was that it had the lucky sense of good timing and strong marketing. Pushing out the DVD and Blu-Ray just two months after its theatrical release and right in time for the holidays “Pitch Perfect” officially became a "thing" by spinning its rendition of "Cups" into a legitimate radio hit and adding itself to every female tween, teen and shared dorm room collection that Christmas. It was the newest ole reliable, the one movie you could count on to play and make everyone happy. In capitalizing on this loyal following a sequel has of course been made and while I had doubts it could recapture the lightning in a bottle feel the first one possessed so effortlessly writer Kay Cannon and supporting player turned director Elizabeth Banks have been able to both hit the strongest beats of the first film in new ways with the sequel while at the same time creating something of a different structure so as this doesn't ever feel like a carbon copy of the original. There was certainly hesitation in embracing a sequel to something that had so quickly become beloved, but with Banks taking over there was also intrigue as to what she would do with the opportunity and where she would take the Barden Bellas in their next round. Interestingly enough, Banks and Cannon take that formula and work a little more loosely with it this time around again giving the Bellas an ultimate goal in redemption, but also largely deviating in structure through a mix of several subplots and character arcs that allows for this second film to be just as fun to watch as the original while not hitting all the same notes and let's be honest, that's all the goal really needed to be in the first place.
Moving forward in real time, all the new incoming Bellas of the first film are now seniors while Brittany Snow's Chloe has failed courses on purpose for three years so that she may remain a member of the a-cappella group that has, in the interim, won three back to back collegiate championships. Under the guidance of Chloe and Anna Kendrick's Beca the girls look to defend their title one last time, but things go off course when the opening number, a performance for the POTUS at Kennedy Center, ends in Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) exposing a little more of her body than her soul through her song. As punishment for bringing shame to the a-cappella community the Bellas are banned from competing at the collegiate level and forced to clear their name and redeem themselves as the premiere a-cappella group by going on to compete in an International competition no American team has ever won. This challenge pits them against reigning German champions Das Sound Machine led by the intimidating Flula Borg and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen. While this is the overriding arc of the film this sequel doesn't waste time on conflicts between the now harmonious Beca and Jesse (Skylar Astin), but rather Beca's need to begin looking to the future with an internship at a recording studio with a well-known producer (Keegan-Michael Key) that takes her focus off of the Bellas. Kendrick is surprisingly playing something of a second string to Wilson here though whose love story with Bumper (Adam Devine) takes front and center as does the introduction of a freshman member, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), who is a legacy due to her mother (Katey Sagal) being a legendary member of the group. Not only do the Bellas have to get out of the funk they've fallen into after the Kennedy Center debacle, but they have to face their inevitable futures of leaving the group behind as Emily integrates herself into the already set camaraderie and positioning herself as the lead for “Pitch Perfect 3.”
What makes both of the Pitch Perfect films so endlessly entertaining and endlessly re-watchable (at least the second film seems that way after its first impression) is the consistency with which it delivers its humor. While “Pitch Perfect 2” is no longer just about Beca and her journey to find a professional space in the music industry, that it is more about the Bellas as a whole allows their individual quirks to be highlighted at more of a rapid rate thus allowing small added value elements from the first film to really contribute. The sexually charged Stacie (Alexis Knapp), the minority in every way Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean), the odd foreigner Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) and the interchangeable Jessica (Kelley Jakle) and Ashley (Shelley Regner) along with new blood Flo (Chrissie Fit) who adds a bit of perspective to every situation given her ethnicity and the stereotypes that come along with it each have their moments to shine. In the first film each of these supporting players served as a send-up of different archetypes and they still do to a certain extent here, but are more fully-formed characters this time around given the crux of the film centers on the team coming together after being in the trenches for three years. Fat Amy is as explosive as ever with Banks throwing the camera to Rebel Wilson anytime she needs a punch line feels with it typically paying off in spades. What brings the familiarity of this sequel to a not so natural state is the films inability to really focus. This is both a plus and a hindrance as the flow of the film feels more freewheeling and loose which lends to less of a corporate, committee manufactured movie yet more than a few scenes could have been cut from the final film to make the film tighter. It's so hard to not enjoy the company of these characters and their ridiculous world though that most won't mind that the film stretches itself to nearly two hours when it is hard pressed to find any real justification outside of indulgence.
The biggest relief is that “Pitch Perfect 2” doesn't try to repeat what made the first film such a surprise success because if Cannon and Banks are anything with this film they are self-aware and go in knowing what they need to do to keep the fans of the original on board while moving things along to new territory so as to not disappoint. As an unabashed fan of the first film who saw it in its limited release before expanding wide in 2012 I found it to be an unrelentingly funny comedy that included popular music in a way that connected with a broad audience in a way few musicals or films actually intended for teens or youth typically do. There is a diverse cast of characters and personalities at play here and the film balances each of them well, taking the core group through the ups and downs of a band as if it were the subject of a Behind the Music episode (the sad part is, the core audience for this film won't likely understand that reference) so that we get to see these people in every light. “Pitch Perfect” and its sequel are the kind of films that folks outside of teenage girls hate to admit they have a good time watching, but like the music these films include “Pitch Perfect 2” makes it all feel cool. It all works because every single audience member knows the songs whether they want to or not. It also knows what genres and types of songs to give call backs to as the sequels version of the riff-off featuring a hilarious David Cross and members of the Green Bay Packers is a real highlight. The mash-up's are again professionally done with the selections made for the final competition being exceptionally matched and relentlessly entertaining. This is the case with the film as well. Like the original, “Pitch Perfect 2” has no right to be anything more than a standard teen comedy, but it has the charms and comedic chops that push it far past a typical teen flick and more into the realm of something that connects. I am a guy, in his 20's and I enjoy all kinds of movies. I love music and despite the fact I'm probably on the outer ring of the target audience I continue to have a great time any time my wife or I throw “Pitch Perfect” on. I expect that to continue with this new installment given how much I enjoyed it the first time around and honestly can't wait to watch it again.