[Review] - Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch Perfect is one of those films that I completely ignored upon release, like the first Pirates of the Caribbean or the first Taken, because it didn't seem to interest me at all. I abhor singing and musicals (say what you mean, don't waste time rhyming!), and this was before Anna Kendrick had established herself as one of the better people on the planet. So, I passed it over. I don't even remember the circumstances of how I ended up watching in the first place. But, as with the previously stated examples, the film won me over, and quickly earned a place on my favourites list. It was a quirky, original concept with charm to spare and a top notch, talents and hilarious cast.

The sequel is none of those things. Like the previously stated examples, the sequel delivers very little but a cold reflection of the original, doing very little to establish an identify of it's own. Like so many sequels, it falls into the trap of focusing on very specific elements of what the made the original enjoyable (in this case, a cappella singing) and only barely manages to construct an organic framework around which that element can work the second time. Everything else is pushed way to the back in an attempt to accommodate this one element, making for a largely joyous, vestigial twin of the original. Frustratingly, Pitch Perfect 2 displays moments of self awareness that hint that this all might have been intentional, or at least the original idea, before it got lost in the haze of it's own self delusion.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that don't want your butt confidence.

Pitch Perfect 2 is a gimmick film; the original was not. Herein lies the problem that many films that have strong gimmicks fall into; the Hangover movies are perfect examples. The first film was a solid, well structured and purely intentioned film built around a basic premise, engaging characters, and a range of plot element. The sequel takes the most defining plot element, overextends it to become the entire premise at the cost of the structure, characters and any other plot elements, and becomes a gimmick which cannot sustain itself over the length of the film. If history is any indication, Pitch Perfect 3 will attempt to return to this gimmick in a desperate attempt to get it right. Where the fog has settled over the maker's eyes is that it wasn't the gimmick that made the original what it was. It was the gimmick in conjunction with everything else. Pitch Perfect was a movie that had singing in it, whereas Pitch Perfect 2 is a movie about singing. It is a subtle but immeasurably important difference.

The movie has no core. The Bellas move from random vignette to random vignette, each with a very forces excuse to sing, with very little reason and even less context. I have sat through excruciatingly over complicated films and manged to keep track of every bizarre plot twist (I alone in my peer group understood the ending of Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes on first viewing) but I don't think I've ever stared at the screen, arms outstretched, audibly shouting "what?" at the screen as often as I did during this film. There is a plot structure, as flimsy as a boiled linguine noodle, that serves as a rough outline of what is meant to happen, but the film feels no need to give this outline any depth.

So, the Bellas travel to Copenhagen (or maybe they don't, I'm not really sure), or take part in group therapy (or something) or just have a lot of montages for reasons that don't advance any plot, they just give them excuses to belt out a Top 40 track (I recognized only three songs in the entire film, which is probably the same as I did in the original, but at least I enjoyed those arrangements). An extended sequence featuring David Cross and the Green Bay Packers means literally nothing. Side note: isn't a cappella meant to be unaccompanied music? Just throat noises? Because this film's soundtracks backs up any "singing" with full instrumentation, thus rendered the sole gimmick on which the film is built utterly moot.

The first film was Becca's movie. She was the protagonist, she advanced the plot, she took part in the plot. The film happened to her, and because of her. Pitch Perfect 2 isn't Becca's movie. It isn't anybodies movie. There is no protagonist. The plot happens despite the actions and events of the characters, none of which are given any further definition beyond where they were in the original. It isn't even an ensemble, as the group as a whole all recede into a background of repeated jokes form the first film and general banality. In the originals, each member of the Bellas had a distinct personality. Here, they all either function as a bizarre mass consciousness, or are whittled down to their most obvious trait for their one or two lines of dialogue.

The entire group could have been cut down to just Kendrick, Snow and Rebel Wilson, and the film would have changed in no way. In fact, removing Snow wouldn't have effected much either, and Wilson and Kendrick really only contribute to their meandering subplots. Characters like Bumper and Aubrey are brought back because of inertia, not because it serves the story to have them there. Subplots involving a new recruit (Hailee Steinfeld) or Becca's job at a recording studio go little to nowhere, don't impact the larger plot, and ultimately don't lead to any development or change in situation. At least, not within the confines of this two hour adventure, which is the only and whole point.

I mentioned that the film has a certain self awareness at times that makes me suspect the original intention of the film was to be a mockery of Hangover and Taken style franchises, but they got lost in their own satire, and ended up becoming an example of what they were intending to mock. Director Elizabeth Banks' (who also appears in the film) first line is something to the effect of how busy and directionless the Bellas performance is, hinting of more witty intent, but ultimately coming off as a reasonable critic of her own inaugural directorial performance. Little things surface throughout the film that suggest a higher awareness (like one character who appears in the background of every Bella performance, was not in the original, and has no lines save a very obscure brick joke towards the end).

Which isn't to say that the film isn't funny. It is, at times laugh out load funny. But it isn't the same kind of funny. Here, the humour derives almost exclusively from extreme comedy. I've long respected Banks for being an actor who does not shy away from the extremes, and that is more than evident in this surprisingly racist film. There is the ignorant tangents of John Michael Higgins, who is the highlight of the film, but within character his statements make sense. What doesn't are the recurring jokes about the Bellas' lone Hispanic member, whose character increasingly devolves into a collection of racist cliches. Or the overall gist of the film, which constantly goes back to the well of "saying something horribly offensive with a smile makes it hilarious."

The strongest points of the film were when Banks, no stranger to improv herself, clearly let the camera roll and allowed Higgins, Keegan-Michael Key and Rebel Wilson just go for it. Wilson gets tiring quickly, but Key brings much needed relief to a subplot that would be dead on arrival otherwise. Unfortunately, nothing else is asked of anyone else in the cast, so they don't bring anything else to the picture. About the only good line Kendrick gets in the entire film is a recurring inability to insult her German competition, but those jokes still fall flat. What we're left with is another purposeless sequel that will continue to beget pointless sequels until the franchise becomes unprofitable or it makes the switch to direct-to-market, a la Bring It On. Another depressing example of taking lightning in a bottle, letting it go and filling the bottle with horse flies. Not everything deserves or requires a sequel, and this film is proof of  both.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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