Pitch Perfect 2 is the "bigger, better, more badass" sequel to 2012's surprise hit about a goofy group of college women who sing acapella. It takes a little while to warm up, but once it gets going, Pitch Perfect 2 has a rollicking, undeniable energy.
The plot picks up three years after the first film. The Barden Bellas — the championship women's acapella group from the first movie — is now headed by Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Chloe (Brittany Snow), and rounded out by the same team of lovable weirdos, including the unstoppable Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), the bizarre Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) and the talented, criminally underused Cynthia-Rose (Ester Dean).
Performing for President Obama at the film's opening, Fat Amy has an unfortunate "wardrobe malfunction" that causes the team disgrace, setting up a need for them to win the world championships in order to keep the team from disbanding. Keeping things interesting — and the women on their toes — is an infusion of new blood in the form of Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), a "legacy Bella" who wants to sing her own original material, and Beca's high-stakes internship at a music production house, where she has the chance to impress a big-name producer with her own work.
That's a lot of set-up, and the film stumbles in its first half hour, introducing plot points and shoehorning in cameos. Commentating on the Bellas' performances (and doling out punishment for the initial kerfluffle) are John Smith (John Michael Higgins) and Gail Abernathy-McKadden-Feinberg (Elizabeth Banks, both returning to the role and making her directorial debut), reprising their roles as two out-of-touch announcers. The first part of the film is top heavy enough, but John and Gail's presence, along with their signature mean-spirited jokes, threatens to flatten Pitch Perfect 2 before it has a chance to live.
Thankfully, once the initial exposition is done, the writers step out of the way and let the Bellas do what they do best — act like lovable goofballs and sing a lot of catchy mash-ups.
Pitch Perfect 2 is best when it acts as an exploration of female friendship. The Bellas clearly love one another, warts (and weird habits) and all. Fat Amy is basically the star of the show, a brash, hilarious one-woman band that takes no shit from anyone and also loves the hell out of her friends. She doesn't care about the way the world sees her — and everyone adores her for it. Lilly is the group's oddest member — it's a running joke that everything that comes out of her mouth is a declaration like "I sleep upside down like a bat!" But she shows up and helps out in a pinch like everyone else. This is a movie about women who are unashamed of being a little odd, and loving one another.
This is why the easy jokes are such a bummer. Pitch Perfect 2 doesn't need them to be funny, and in fact they sap away good will and good humor from the movie when they pop up. This is a story about a bunch of lovable weirdos who sing together. Fat Amy crossing a river in a canoe while singing a cheesy power ballad to her lover is way, way funnier than an old white guy making cracks about the futility of sending women to college. Likewise, the Bella’s Latina member, Florencia, tells stories stories about deportation and dying in a developing country that ring false. I kept wanting to shout "You're better than this, Pitch Perfect 2!" whenever a groaner was trotted out.
I kept wanting to shout "You're better than this, Pitch Perfect 2!"
This was a problem in the first film as well. But it stings more here, in an otherwise more polished, higher-budget picture.
Outside of the bad jokes, Pitch Perfect 2 really does shine. There's an infectious, dorky humor about the whole production. Of course, it's also a movie about music, and there are a number of show-stopping vocal performances (with eye-popping choreography to match), that ensures that the Glee contingent of the audience will be happy. Much of the magic and energy of the film comes from these numbers, which are glitzy and glamorous and left me with more than one high-powered pop tune stuck in my head forever.
At its heart, Pitch Perfect 2 is a movie about women having a great time, supporting one another and singing their hearts out. Sometimes they fart on one another, sometimes they hit a rough patch onstage and sometimes the film stumbles with a nasty joke. But if there's one thing the movie taught me, its that being your own damned self is always in style. Even when it isn't.