Before watching a sequel to a movie, I always make a habit of going back and revisiting the first instalment, so it’s fresh in my mind when writing a review. Before watching Pitch Perfect 2, I had every intention of going back and watching the first one beforehand, due to the fact I hadn’t seen it since it came out, which is now close to three years ago. Despite it’s fast-earned reputation as a cult classic, the movie never struck me as anything special; it wasn’t a movie of big laughs, so much as a movie of warm chuckles. I summarised that it was essentially just a feature length episode of Glee, albeit one that didn’t leave me with the distinct feeling of wanting to slap everybody who enjoyed it around the face.
In the past three years, it’s amazing how much I’ve forgotten about the film- all I remembered was Anna Kendrick being in it, the fact there was a character called Fat Amy (because she’s fat, lol jk) and the fact there was an Asian character who only spoke in a quiet voice, which I have to confess as misremembering as a joke from somewhere else. In a nutshell, by not revisiting the first one, I was ill-equipped to watch the sequel, let alone review it. With everybody who loved the first one telling me that it pales in comparison to the original, I actually believe I enjoyed the film simply because I didn’t make the time to watch the first one again- for me, it is no better or worse than what has come before and will likely vanish from my mind as fast as the first one did.
Due to traffic, I missed the first five minutes of the film, literally walking into the screening and trying to find my seat just as Fat Amy accidentally flashed her vagina to President Obama (yes, this is really how the film starts). The singing group which she is a part of, The Barden Bellas, are now somewhat popular due to the movie taking place in an alternate dimension where a Capella singing is considered the highest musical art form, something which “muffgate” threatens. They are suspended from taking part in singing competitions, to which they respond by signing up to take part in a singing competition, this time in Denmark. No American team has ever won the competition (“They all hate us!” cheerfully laughs one of the commentators), but they are determined to win and I honestly don’t know why I’m writing this synopsis as you know what’s going to happen. It’s essentially an underdogs sports movie, but with singing as the sport and the tense drama replaced with jokes about Maxi pads.
The major flaw in Pitch Perfect is apparent- the Bellas are the least interesting characters in the entire film. For a comedy movie to be funny, you have to find the characters and their traits funny. In the case of Pitch Perfect, I am actively forgetting character names, with only Fat Amy being a fully rounded character- and ironically, the only one who is defined by their character trait in name. The movie doesn’t bother developing their characters beyond cliched narratives (Anna Kendrick pursuing a career in the music business! A plucky young singer played by Hailee Steinfeld coming to take her place in the group!), or worse yet, casual racism. This is a movie where a Mexican character, who is technically one of the lead characters, speaks dialogue that solely discusses how she is going to get kidnapped or deported. When watching a very good sitcom, for example, we get to learn all the character names and appreciate them as individual characters; here, every character that isn’t Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy or Anna Kendrick’s Beca blends into one giant uninteresting organism, existing to be nothing more that stereotypes that sometimes sing Natalie Imbruglia songs.
The reason the movie manages to stay on the watchable side is for two reasons- firstly, the amount of comedic talent outside of the central cast manages to keep the movie amusing, even if it shares the first one’s tendency to be more about warm chuckles than belly laughs, with the notable exception of a running gag about how people who do original songs should be banned from competitions. Elizabeth Banks (who also directs- as her directorial debut, it’s pretty unremarkable, albeit serviceable) and John Michael Higgins are good value in their scattered appearances as the Ac-commentators, whilst Adam DeVine continues to be very good at playing pathetically emotional man-children very well, if not as good as on his starring role in Comedy Central’s Workaholics. As for the new cameos, there is enough established comedic talent to keep me interested- in nothing more than a ten minute sequence, David Cross plays the role of an A Capella enthusiast in a way that makes him seem like a fully rounded character that might exist, instead of just a camp caricature to be hounded in with the caricatures of Mexicans, Asians and lesbians over in the main cast list.
The other thing that makes the film watchable is the fact that the musical sequences are actually quite good due to the strength of the vocal performances and the winning mix of songs. Watching the first one I distinctively remember wishing the cast would stop singing Ace of Base and get on with the jokes. Here I felt the opposite, hoping the (mostly) poor attempts at comedy would stop and the Bellas would do what the movie keeps telling us they are best at: singing their hearts out. The musical sequences aren’t staged particularly originally and I can’t help but feel the franchise would find its true calling as a jukebox musical-style stage show; it’s undeniably entertaining in it’s musical moments, it just never feels cinematic, a problem it shares with the first one, which at least means the franchise is consistent. As much as I enjoyed the musical sequences whilst watching it, I wouldn’t rush home to download the soundtrack- hearing German Youtube star Flula Borg sing a cover of “Uprising” by Muse is a pleasure I don’t care to repeat again.
Pitch Perfect 2 is unremarkable, but sporadically fun, as long as you ignore the first instalment in the franchise. Without wishing to come to a sexist conclusion, I am going to draw the generalisation that female audience members, the primary target audience, will be disappointed, whereas their partners who they will drag along to watch it with them will be pleasantly surprised that the movie is watchable. Well, that was my experience anyway- despite laughing through the film quite a bit, my boyfriend claimed that it was a disappointment, with my pleasant surprise being met with a confused “You didn’t like the first Pitch Perfect? What sort of gay are you?” I guess I’m the kind of gay who likes my comedies to be funny- and Pitch Perfect 2 provides insufficient laughter, even if it does provide adequate entertainment.