All words: Rachel Kurzius
Get aca-ready, ladies and gents, because Pitch Perfect 2 is seizing on every element that garnered the first film a cool $113 million at the box office and ratcheting up the volume. Who cares about the National Championships of A Capella when our intrepid group of harmonizing misfits have to win Worlds to survive?
The Barden Bellas, who ended Pitch Perfect as the first all-female team to win a national championship, begin the sequel performing for President Obama with their trademark mash-ups. While their sound still resembles a human version of a Girl Talk song, they’ve gotten real fancy with their routine by including a series of silk trapeze elements. Fan-favorite Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) has an issue (the silk won’t hold her weight, because she’s fat, get it?) that results in her giving the entirety of the Kennedy Center a prime view of her crotch.
Perhaps the most realistic element of the movie is that Fat Amy’s vaginal show results in a hilarious montage of cable news outrage featuring the likes of Jake Tapper, the women from The View, and the Morning Joe duo. Dubbed “Muffgate,” the scandal results in the Barden Bellas getting kicked out of their national tour and unable to compete in their league. The only thing that will save the group from being disbanded forever: winning the World Championships.
Just as the Bellas faced off against history to win nationals, they’d be the first American team to take the global crown. If the stylistic tension in the first movie was between singing the same Ace of Base song with shticky choreography and trying something new, the sequel tackles whether A Capella groups can ever sing original music. If Becca (Anna Kendrick) typified the struggle to incorporate a more modern sound into the Bella’s routine, new entrant Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) writes her own songs.
Emily, like most of the characters in Pitch Perfect 2, has one defining feature. It’s her songwriting (though she’s also a legacy, a loophole that lets her join the group when they’re not allowed to recruit). For Fat Amy, it’s her weight. Wilson’s steadfast refusal to show any shame as Fat Amy is incredible, especially seeing how much the script penned by Kay Cannon tries as much to make her size a punchline. Then you’ve got the slut (Alexis Knapp), the quiet Asian girl (Hana Mae Lee), the Black lesbian (Ester Dean), and the third-world international student (Chrissie Fit). Each scene reliably ends with one of these characters making a joke in line with their stereotype. Need a bizarre non-sequitur? Time for Lee. Prefer a joke about having diarrhea for seven years? Bring in Fit. Want a line about grabbing a Bella member’s goodies? Dean’s your girl. While these one-liners, especially from Lee, are reliably funny, they’re often uncomfortable and feel too easy. These aren’t characters; they’re walking caricatures.
Luckily, there’s also the singing, and boy, can these folks sing. The sequel has way more performances from the original, both low-key and balls-to-the-walls, glitter-exploding-everywhere kind of showmanship (more of the latter than the former). The new competition pits the Bellas against Das Sound Machine, a hilarious German team clad in black mesh who utilize videos for a hilarious send-up of the Krauts, like their penchant for organization and modern art-esque video.
Pitch Perfect’s genius was utilizing the tropes of the sports movie genre for A Capella. The sequel is no exception, with its training montages, intimidating opponents and big moment of darkness just before the light. It also piles on the characters. This means that all of the notables from the first movie come back, but also that everyone gets a bit of a short shrift. For instance, Becca’s boyfriend Jesse (Skyler Astin) is nothing more than a cheerleader in a few scenes. Not creating tension between those two is perhaps the only tool from the sequel kit that Pitch Perfect 2 doesn’t use.
This movie is made for the people who yearn for a harmonized version of their favorite Britney Spears song, with a smattering of “I-can’t-believe-you-just-said-that” humor. Pitch Perfect 2 knows its audience and it’s singing right to them.