When I saw the trailer for the original “Pitch Perfect”, I wrote it off as a silly Glee rip off with that girl from “Twilight” (remember when Anna Kendrick did that?). I didn’t even bother seeing it until it came out on DVD. So, when it turned out to be a well-written and legitimately funny movie, my expectations were so far surpassed that the film gained a notoriety and love in my mind that exceeded its actual quality. That’s what I think happened with the first film. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a good movie that everyone thought would be terrible, and that’s why it became famous.
Going into “Pitch Perfect 2”, there’s none of that dark horse magic or buzz. It’s just a college comedy that has to stand on its own merits and writing in a way the first one didn’t. Because of that, the experience of watching “Pitch Perfect 2” feels flat. Some of it is a reduction in quality from the first one, but I also do think the franchise was bound to suffer once it lost its underdog quality.
Still, it’s a fun ride. Seeing the Bellas again is a treat and most of the good things about the first one carry through. The cast is just as stellar this time around, with Anna Kendrick shining as a more confident, senior year Beca. Though he left the school years before, the film still finds a way to bring Bumper (Adam Devine) back as a major character, which is probably the best decision in the whole production. Easily the MVP of the returning cast, Devine is one of the funniest actors in the movie and his courting of Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) is surprisingly sweet and endearing. He knows how to tread the line between creating an annoying but lovable character and actually annoying the audience. It’s not a line his scene partner Wilson can navigate quite as well, so Fat Amy sometimes veers into grating territory, but she still has moments where she shines.
The scenes with Keegan-Michael Key as Beca’s boss at her new internship are the strongest of the film, partially because of his spot on timing and partially because it take the film into creative areas that the first one didn’t go. Much of the film is a rehash of the original – we have Beca’s inner struggles separating her from the group, a series of initial failed performances, a big emotionally intense breakthrough scene (this time with less vomit and more net traps, thankfully), a sing-off competition, and a final performance, narrated by John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (director Elizabeth Banks). The internship plot line takes the film into refreshingly unfamiliar territory.
The most disappointing part of the film is that it takes the occasionally off-color humor of the first one to a new level that comes off as frustratingly offensive. For instance, a new character, Flo, comes from Guatemala, and interjects comments into all the Bella’s conversations about how awful her life back home was. At one point, she says her brother tried to sell her for a chicken. Who in the writing room thought that was okay? Ester’s lesbianism is also turned into an offensive joke here, even more so than in the first one, and Chloe’s attraction to Beca is still only for funny throw-away lines. This is the kind of movie that should be silly and fun and not compromise your morals.
On a more positive note, newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is a fun addition to the cast and the girl has a great voice and cute relationship with Benji (Ben Platt). However, I feel like she never has much room to shine or be funny, and her character is ultimately not overly noteworthy. In fact, that’s what I’d say about the whole film: mostly fun, but not overly noteworthy.