If you’re thinking about seeing Pitch Perfect 2, consider going with a teenaged girl (or one of the middle-aged women sitting behind us, who cooed with delight at every one of the fifteen coming attractions before the movie). As my daughter said later, “It was awesome. The movie was absolute fluff but there was a lot of singing and I knew most of the songs.” From my standpoint, that’s better than fists and guns; also, Pitch Perfect 2 was directed by Elizabeth Banks and stars a dozen women of all sizes and colors. With the right seatmate, it’s not a bad evening out.
As a sequel, Pitch Perfect 2 is stuck with the all-too-common “more” syndrome. Take everything that made the first movie a success (including the plot outline) and increase by 25%. More songs, more characters, more volume. Most of the jokes don’t land, although it’s mildly amusing to see boilerplate scatalogical humor coming from women instead of boys. (Still, it has nothing on Bridesmaids in that department.) Banks and screenwriter Kay Cannon made the same movie any male hack would have. It might be progress of a sort, but why bother if this is the result? (For funnier and more interesting female-driven comedy, see Amy Schumer’s TV show; Carrie Brownstein is also doing great work on Portlandia.)
Anna Kendrick has already proven she can hold the screen in better movies, but she gives an energetic performance here, and spins her lines more effectively than they deserve. Rebel Wilson isn’t as funny or surprising as she was in Pitch Perfect, but she doesn’t have anything new to work with this time, and she looks bored. Hailee Steinfeld fares better as the fresh face, although I did wonder why the pretty white girls got all the leads when they are clearly out-performed by Ester Dean (a professional musician) and probably any number of other, less pale actresses who weren’t even considered for roles.
As a musical movie (it features music, as opposed to a movie musical, where songs advance the plot), Pitch Perfect 2 is in the tradition of Fame, Glee, and others where the characters know the lyrics instantly and can nail four-part harmonies with no practice. If you like the sound – slick and heavily produced, barely a cappella – great. I’d rather see the process of learning the songs, adding layers, and feel the resulting joy of creating music. (The documentary Young@Heart, about a nursing home choir that performs rock songs, is hugely affecting for that reason – the singers struggle with and eventually master the material, revealing unexpected depths within the songs and themselves.) Banks and Cannon include one scene like that, as Kendrick improvises a counter melody while Snoop Dogg intones an insipid Winter Wonderland (the scene plays at the edge of parody, as does another scene featuring members of the Green Bay Packers singing Bootylicious.) My favorite musical moment was the gentle campfire sing-along, a reprise of the first movie’s Cups (When I’m Gone). I prefer artisanal sap.
I come out of movies like this feeling slightly taken advantage of, the same as when I occasionally succumb to McDonald’s. I know it’s not good for me, I know I’m buying something highly processed, calculated to generate money. But my teenager bounced and sang the rest of the night, which reminds me that sometimes you just need to relax and find simple pleasures. As I said, not a bad evening out.