Pitch Perfect 2 sings a middling note

ot far into “Pitch Perfect 2” it became clear that instinct is the driving force that makes the movie. The infectious spirit and outlandish physical or dialogue-driven comedy— along with the dedication and talent of its superb cast—­that made the first a hit is utilized here so naturally I’m sure these characters haven’t left the roles in years. Sadly, what is also equally clear is that there isn’t much of a story to mix it all into.
After an embarrassing show at the Kennedy Center the Barden Bellas, an “institutional” a capella group, experience a Janet Jackson-esque faux pas on live television and are promptly suspended from whatever the professional level of a capella is referred to. Now I say “institutional” because the notion that a capella is as popular as this movie believes it is is the first sign it could easily sell as a straight-up musical (see the scene involving a school orientation for another example). The fantasy world it lives in is undoubtedly silly which fits the movie well but I couldn’t help but quote the immortal words of Regina George in “Mean Girls”: Stop trying to make a capella happen. It’s not going to happen!
Then the movie shifts focus to the young Beca (Anna Kendrick) who takes an internship at a big record label headed over by the per-usual arrogant, unbearable boss (the always hysterical Michael Keegan-Key). Beca spends most of the movie hiding this truth from her friends over fear of rejection.
Though I will by the end of this review give this movie a good amount of praise I can’t help but want to get all the bad out of the way first, so here it goes: “Perfect 2” narratively and structurally is a mess (please don’t shoot me! I have a dog!). For instance let’s look at the aforementioned plot line with Beca. Why would a girl who has spent the last 3 years getting to know and spent all her time with fear that when hearing about her exciting new opportunity gang up on her like a back of wild hogs? Now I’m not throwing down any “sexist cards”, but assuming a group of women would instantly act vindictively and selfishly towards each other doesn’t exactly meet the Sandra Day O’Connor test. I know that’s a fine line to cross, but when you have a movie that will be a surefire hit and has the capacity to exude to ultimate sense of girl-power but has a major plot point that is fueled by fear of ostracism and judgement contributes to that on neither a message or coherence level.
Not to mention this element must share screen time with the overall story of the Bellas competing for, well, the sake of competition. After the Bellas are suspended they immediately make note that as national champions they instantly qualify to go to the global tournament. Problem solved! Now they can just have fun competing with their rivals, The Germans (who are their rivals simply because they replaced them in the nation-wide tour after the suspension), in an 80’s movie-like matchup.
I could go on but I’ll finish up by saying because of all the lack of conflict (the girls seem to have fun with each other with pillow fights and parties and witty banter) that by the end they just seemed to have gotten there with no struggle at all and won right-out. Even the conflict between Beca revealing her internship is only met with a stern argument and resolved in about one minute with a comedic happenstance.
Basically, nothing makes sense in the grand scheme of things but the bow that it’s wrapped up is very nice indeed. The entire cast featuring Kendrick, Rebel Wilson and Brittany Snow—with the invaluable John Michael-Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (pulling double-duty as director) as a capella sports casters—give the movie the essential sense of fun the first possessed in spades.
Writer Kay Cannon knows these characters in and out and gives them enough juicy, individualistic, hilarious dialogue to play around with. If the movie possesses any sense of girl-power it lies within these characters. Though not all of them actually have something to say, each one has their own unique qualities that set them apart and establish their place in the group. Even the two girls who don’t talk have a place as the “Who are you guys again?” group members.
The show stealers usually involve the supporting cameos, like from Keegan-Key and David Cross as an eccentric a capella super-fan and, as mentioned Higgins and Banks. Most of their dialogue seems improvised and elevates the usually quirky humor to levels hysterical political incorrectness and offensiveness. I would watch a movie just with the two of them, and thankfully they show up a lot here.
As well I found it impossible to find something to enjoy in the musical numbers, whether it was the competition involving the over-the-top German team, the group of middle-aged college grads who haven’t let singing go and, for some strange reason, the Green Bay Packers or simply the outlandish Bella performances. I was able to contain myself, but I wouldn’t be shocked if others got up and started dancing in the aisles. I would also expect their friends to drag them back into their seat and say “we’ll do that at home!” but still, you can’t deny their spirit.
So yes, the movie is a mixed bag of truly bad storytelling and undeniable charm and fun. Depending on what matters most to you will reflect how you walk out. For me, my brain can’t stop from absorbing and analyzing both, hence the way-too-long review. But I feel most people will focus on the latter, and skip out the theater saying it was the funniest movie ever made. Can’t blame them, but at the same time, you sort of can.

Grade: C+

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