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5/15/15

I Saw Pitch Perfect 2 and So Should You

YESSS!

Even though their advertising campaign was annoying as fuck trying to manipulate ‘pitch’ into every pun possible, Pitch Perfect 2 is the film to see. But we already had plans to see this sequel because we watched and rewatched the first film five or six twenty or thirty times and religiously quote it and listen to the cast recording soundtrack every now and then.

Don’t lie, we know you do. And no one is judging here…

Even with the unusually high-standards we as a culture impose on sequels - with the Catch-22 of “how does the film tap into everything that made the first film a hit without making the same movie twice" - Pitch Perfect 2 is a pretty good effort. All it needed to be worthwhile was some funny lines and gags, plus some good songs (or at the very least, some interesting acapella-ized arrangements). On those two fronts, Pitch Perfect 2 more then excels - my voice is hoarse this morning from all the laughing I did and the soundtrack will join my iTunes library in the near future.

The most notable aspect about Kay Cannon’s script is…there is A LOT of story. The central plot is the Barden Bellas trying to get reinstated at their college after they humiliate themselves while performing in front of the President. To do that, they must win the World Championship of Acapella held in Denmark, besting a front-running German group called Das Sound Machine. Fine, all well and good…we have our conflict, our heroes and villains and the end destination.

Unfortunately, Cannon couldn’t leave well enough alone. The plot gets sent off in a variety of directions and most of it doesn’t amount to much. Every scene with Beca at the record label she is interning with was a bust and Bumper and Fat Amy’s sexcapades-turned-romance happened because...the writing said so. Newcomer Emily and her scenes with her Mom were expendable and while her budding romantic interest with Benji had potential, I wasn’t holding my breathe as to their “will they or won’t they” future. And while every song or medley has their merit as a stand-alone listen, it seems like some scenes were conceived to accommodate them instead of serving the story ("Welcome new students,” <song>…”We just finished our riff-off/rip-off competition," <song>).

Perhaps the biggest catastrophe that happens is that Skylar Astin’s Jesse, intentionally or not, is sidelined. Oh sure, he is the lead vocalist on a cute-hot and fun number - the Treblemakers arrangement of “Lollipop" - and then…nothing. He has maybe four total minutes of screen time after his performance where he plays the supportive nice guy and boyfriend to Anna Kendrick’s Beca. It is beyond baffling that he is not more prevalent in Pitch Perfect 2 considering he was one of the undoubted highlights of the first film, what with Jesse’s off-the-charts chemistry with Beca and Astin’s swoon-worthy portrayal of him. Here’s me hoping that Pitch Perfect 3 (which seems likely with how popular it is and how much money it will rake in) has more of a focus on Beca and Jesse’s relationship…maybe with real-world jobs, a killer apartment and aca-children (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

It should be noted that, the first Pitch Perfect aside, plotting was never why we loved Kay Cannon’s writing. After all, she wrote how many episodes of 30 Rock (and some of New Girl) and plot was never at the forefront in either vehicle. Amazing one-liners and comedy bits, plus compelling characters, are her strong suit and when the plot stops fucking up, the film becomes top-notch almost instantly.

As the acapella commentators and podcast hosts, John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks are a riot. Higgins, in particular, has some comedic voodoo in tow to make his outrageously sexist comments utterly hysterical (“Don’t worry, you’re all going to be pregnant soon anyways” and “This is what happens when you let women into colleges"). I actually felt embarrassed, as a proud feminist, to let loose such loud laughter, but Higgins is just that awesome at the part. 

The ensemble of Bellas, some returning and some new, are a joy to watch as well. The more subtle and “Fuck Yeah, Girl Power” moments land - a sweet redux of “Cups” around a campfire - but I was more about watching the girls play off each other and have their fun. The meek, whispering Lilly is back providing campy lines like “all my teeth are from other people” and “I sleep upside down like a bat.” Fat Amy is a treasure and never met a one-liner she couldn’t knock out of the park. A new immigrant Bella spews off ridiculous stuff like, “When I was younger, my brother tried to sell me for a chicken” and “It’s okay; I already outlived my life expectancy.” The ensemble cast of women - Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Ester Dean, Brittany Snow, Chrissie Fit, Alexis Knapp, Hana Mae Lee, amongst others - knew what they were doing and look like they were having a blast with the material.

But okay, I’m just going to rip off this band-aid and say it…Anna Kendrick was a lil’ off this go-around. To be fair to her, she is no longer the focal point of the story as Pitch Perfect 2 caters more to the ensemble on hand. And her “Daria-esque, indifferent, outsider, badass” traits that Kendrick flawlessly embodied (who can forget her fist-pump of a burn with, “that’s my dick”), was replaced with a lot of written insecurities and awkwardness. But still...Kendrick seems tentative in portraying Beca in this film, which is weird considering, from what I know about her, she is playing herself. That is not a crime by any means (and she is not the only one in this film who does that, Rebel Wilson most notably), but Kendrick doesn’t command the action or have the all-caps PRESENCE like she normally does. She can still sing like a mofo though and a less-then-perfect performance from her is still better then 85% of all other actresses.

Elizabeth Banks rose to the occasion as the film’s director. Not just the whiz-bang, laugh-a-minute run-through, but some of the musical performances are a feat of creativity and energy. The “rip-off” scene - where four acapella groups and the Green Bay Packers (LOLZ) battle out in a sketchy basement, Pitch Perfect 2’s version of the infamous “Riff-Off" - is STUNNING, whirling through a bunch of songs and never letting up. The Bella’s final number is an adrenaline hit leading off with Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” and ending on a pared down “original song” (the film informs us). The aforementioned “Lollipop” is choreographed to perfection and when it comes to the music, there are a lot of good covers and singing voices on display. If nothing else, Pitch Perfect Two gave us most of what we loved about the first film and this film is just as funny (if not, more) and equally as fun of a journey to the end credits…even when the plot try to undermine the entire affair.


Photo Credit: Pitch Perfect 2

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