My apologies to Pitch Perfect, the first film in Universal’s budding franchise. Simply put, it left me confused. Taking popular music and turning those tunes into off-brand karaoke jingles? Get outta here! And then surrounding the pop with caricatures, Tina Fey-esque humor, and some low-budget college behavior? Yeah, whatever, we need to champion serious cinema here. Wake up, sheeple! You’re eating cotton candy with this “American Idol goes to college” movie!
Looking back at 2012 me, I have to laugh. These things are great! They have sass and song to guide them, and they own up to their modest aspirations. Let’s franchise more films that have nothing to do with comic books or visual effects, where the reason for continuing is simply to keep having fun.
It only took two movies for me to figure that out.
Hot off the heels of its sleeper hit successor, Pitch Perfect 2 may not be perfect in itself, but it sure feels like a perfectly good time. It works because of the giggly humor, finger-snapping fun music, and a general sense of life just a step to the left of normal. Here’s a summer sequel built on a foundation of bubble gum and big heart, finally.
Pitch Perfect 2 picks up three years after the first movie. Barden University’s Bellas, that gal-pal gang of singers from the first movie, are the hottest acappella group around, in spite of this movie’s constant reassurance that this is a fringe extra-curricular and style of music. They’ve won like a dozen championships, and have even been asked to perform for Obama. But that’s where the problems start. The gang’s all there; they’re doing their singing thing. The Bellas, including de facto leader Beca (Anna Kendrick) and seven-year student Chloe (Brittany Snow), are strutting it up to the tunes of Pitbull and Icona Pop, even throwing in a little “America the Beautiful”. This show’s for the President, after all. It’s rah-rah, to say the least and quickly sells the amusements of mix-taping.
But then comes in poor “Fat Amy” (Rebel Wilson), the Australian sensation of the team, quite literally like a wrecking ball, dangling atop the stage. Naturally, she’s belting out Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” and then SHHRNK: the pants rip, the crotch is out, and the movie’s set in motion. The team’s mortified, a national disgrace, and most importantly to the story, in a creative funk. They’re about to graduate and are at all kinds of crossroads. And like any college film, the plot progresses with wacky group events and competitions of some sort to move things forward. You can predict sing-offs and montages and heart-to-hearts, but they seldom feel this chipper or creative. Pitch Perfect 2 leaves you feeling a sense of joy for what you just watched, because you got exactly what you wanted.
Superstar Elizabeth Banks helmed this. It’s her first feature-length film, and she produced the previous movie. Banks, as a director, does nicely. She knows exactly what people liked about Pitch Perfect: the music and the comedy. It’s that simple, and Banks capitalizes on it, amping up the beats and broad jokes. No recasting, just a few self-aware nods to the film’s own legacy and mostly more of the good stuff. God, if only more directors could sense what their audiences wanted and actually gave it to them.
Tapping into the resources she has available, Banks stages scenes with kindness for her creative team, giving everyone at least a moment or more to shine. Call it a hunch, but maybe she’s a director who loves the first movie and wanted to show her affection for it? Again, what a concept.
Banks mines Anna Kendrick’s wonderful voice and knows that Rebel Wilson will let it all out, often literally and crassly, to get results. The speed of Kay Cannon’s (scripts for 30 Rock and New Girl) screenplay moves things along, and we don’t care to stop and question the finer points of plotting. Whatever, German villains are ludicrous, but they’re easy to boo.
Strangest of all, the mash-up music is really something to hear. In the Jimmy Fallon age of low-brow music appreciation in the form of sampling and lip syncing, imagine the best drunken party mix you’ve ever heard. There’s no point in getting highfalutin here when Pitch Perfect 2’s doing a decent enough job of carrying a tune. Without spoiling the surprises, and there are plenty, just know that there’s room for Whitney, Beyonce, and Miley, and something like three dozen more top acts. You’ll be hard-pressed not to nod your head at some point.
Not every joke is a gold mine (or free of stereotypes for that matter), but some of them sure do play big; strange song choices, cameos, and constantly catty or aggressive dialogue are this film’s weapons of choice. Accusations of sinful convenience and this film existing outside any reality are … irrelevant. However, the hyper-actively sneaky product placement, from Comcast to Volkswagen is … annoying. Really annoying, actually.
But Pitch Perfect 2 hears your complaints and really doesn’t care. Out of modest comedy and sing-song excitement comes a movie that’s happy to have a good time and share it with you. This is a film that can be admired for its humility, humanity, and harmony, and in those sections Pitch Perfect 2 hits more than enough high notes. Now pardon me, Pitch Perfect is about to get rented and given another shot.