Monday, June 1, 2015

Film Review: Pitch Perfect 2

The original Pitch Perfect was a low-budget musical romp that became a sleeper hit after it left theaters.  It was insubstantial but incredibly charming.

So of course Hollywood green-lit an inferior sequel.

The story picks up 3 years after the first and the Barton Bellas are the reigning national a capella champions.  But after a wardrobe malfunction in front of the President, the Bellas are suspended from competing.  Their only hope is to win the world championships.  Meanwhile, Becca (Anna Kendrick), the de facto leader of the Bellas is planning for a post-graduation career producing music and begins a secret internship away from her teammates.

The plot feels like a mishmash of two different ideas: world championships and life after college.  It seems like the writers could not decide which story to do, so they did both and it shortchanged the film.

Tonally, the  movie is all over the place.  At times it wants to be a sweet romance and other times it wants to be a PG-13 American Pie.  It goes from salty to sugary at 100 mph.  The nonchalant sexuality in a movie with this rating is a bit disturbing, as it was in the original.  While it is never graphic, fornication seems to be the implied normal passtime in college life.

The characters are for the most part flat with little character development.  The villains are a German a capella group that feels like they walked right out of a Sprockets skit from Saturday Night Live.  As for the rest of Bellas, there isn't much to write about because they are given very little to say or do but exist as a means to the story.  Even the romantic subplot from the last film has for the most part fizzled.  Becca boyfriend Jesse (Skylar Astin) is reduced to being a cheerleader for Becca' life.

The filmmakers tried to recreate some of the magic, like the riff-off from the last movie.  But whereas that one felt fun and spontaneous, this one felt retread and over-rehearsed.  First time director Elizabeth Banks has moments of spark and energy, but there isn't really anything there.

The film's saving grace are a couple of the performances.  Kendrick's acting isn't earth-shattering, but she is completely likeable and charming.  She uses all of her charisma to carry the story forward.  Also Rebel Wilson is incredibly funny as "Fat" Amy.  She doesn't have great material to work with, but she wrings as much humor as she can from the script.  Also a wonderful surprise was Keegan Michael-Key as Becca's boss.  His takedowns of ridiculous hipster culture are some of the best in the movie.

Speaking of Key, he helps introduce some real maturity into the film.  In the real world, you have to contribute something of value to become noticed.  Becca does this, and Key's character encourages her, but he doesn't baby her.  He pushes her to become better.  This is an important theme that is even addressed in "Fat Amy's constant hook-ups with Bumper (Adam DeVine), the villain from the last movie.  Their purely carnal relationship ultimately becomes unsatisfying.  At least the movie acknowledges the truth that sexual pleasure alone cannot make you happy.  The two move closer towards commitment which is, I guess, a step in the right direction.

The music, almost a character in itself, is also inferior in this version.  There are some nice musical moments, but nothing like the magic of the first.  The finale does deliver as the Bellas sing an original song from their newest member Emily (Hailee Steinfeld).  But those moments are rare.

In the end, if you enjoyed the first movie, you will like spending a bit more time with the characters that made you laugh time around.  You may not laugh as much, but you'll smile a bit.

2 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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