“Pitch Perfect 2” is a tone-deaf sequel
Very little can be said about “Pitch Perfect 2” that hasn’t been already. Some films are surprise hits—“Pitch Perfect” was a definite gamble by the studio, as a comedy about college a cappella competitions might have been a giant box office bomb. The original film had a surprisingly strong cast that launched the careers of Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson, as well as featuring a moderately clever script that was just risqué enough to provide genuine laughs.
“Pitch Perfect” was in no way a great movie, but it was entertaining in modest sort of way, a film that might be worth sort-of watching on cable while scanning Facebook or folding laundry. That there was enough of an audience to warrant a sequel to the film is debatable. For the sake of argument, let’s say that there was. Let’s say that there is a core group of “Pitch Perfect” fanatics who love a cappella and really connect with these characters on a personal level.
While I don’t believe that these people really exist, I’m constantly surprised by new subcultures, so I’m willing to entertain such an idea. But if these mass fans of “Pitch Perfect” are out there, then “Pitch Perfect 2” is an injustice. The film is nothing but a rehash of old material, rife with cliché and stereotyping. It has no character development or heart, featuring instead overblown musical numbers, poor pacing, and bizarre technical choices.
It revolves again around the Barden Bellas, an award-winning a cappella group that is as diverse as a stock photo brochure for mutual funds. In the first film, this heterogeneity was played for laughs, with a wink and smile. The same tongue-in-cheek attitudes exist in the sequel, but it largely falls flat, as the audience has heard it all before. Despite seeing the film with a decent-sized audience, I was struck by how silent the theater was.
Apart from the occasional polite chuckle, the intended laugh lines were met by muted boredom. At any rate, due to a wardrobe mishap at the Kennedy Center where Rebel Wilson’s character Fat Amy showed her lady parts to the President, the Bellas are suspended from competing, recruiting, or touring. They are replaced by the group Das Sound Machine, the a cappella version of Ivan Drago, only German instead of Russian.
And yet, while the film might have set up a “Rocky IV”-style showdown, it doesn’t even muster up a real sense of competition between the two groups. The film is largely shown in montage, backed by mash-ups of the soulless, uniform artistry of current pop music.
Much of the problem with films of this type stems from the perpetuation of a stereotype of easy talent. A cappella is not easy. Professional musicianship isn’t either. Very little of the film is spent showing the Bellas rehearsing, and the rehearsals always focus on choreography rather than singing. Many films tend to gloss over the difficulty of their subject matter, from sports to office management. The world of film is populated with natural talent and overwhelming beauty.
But, as much as I understand this tendency, I can’t help but be bothered when Anna Kendrick’s character saves a Snoop Dogg session at her recording studio internship by tapping a rhythm on a Lights Out game and singing bland versions of Christmas music. I’m too traditional to believe that a laptop counts as an instrument. This is a personal blind spot, of course, one that was easier to overlook in the original film because of its natural charm.
When the charm is stripped away, leaving nothing but fat jokes and ethnic jokes and women jokes, the preposterous nature of the story becomes that much more glaring. The foundation of a movie can’t be built on a crass Fat Amy any more than “The Hangover” films could be built on the strangeness of Alan. Falstaff characters must be used sparingly—but then Hollywood isn’t known for its restraint.
“Pitch Perfect 2” was directed by Elizabeth Banks, an actress known for her roles in the “Hunger Games” movies and various Judd Apatow films. As an actress, she is a capable talent with excellent comic timing and delivery. As a director, however, she lacks the experience necessary to tie a film together. The impression left is that of loose ends and missed opportunities.
“Pitch Perfect 2” is yet another sequel that appears to have been made by committee. To say that Banks should not direct another film would be premature. However, she might want to try a smaller feature where she has more control. “Pitch Perfect 2” is just not worth seeing.