The original Pitch Perfect was, by any definition, a surprise hit; I think it’s fair to claim nobody expected a film about a group of female a capella singers to be a box office smash that left a cultural footprint on the new generation of teenage girls. It combined the wry relatability of a film like Mean Girls and etched in pop/music-influenced energy to create something that was decidedly unique and realized and wound up creating its own eclectic fanbase. On the contrary, I don’t think anybody expected there not to be a sequel to the film, and for that film to try and mimic what made the first film so loved.
Aside from a few stumbling attempts to keep up with its own absurdity, and some seriously questionable cultural jokes, Pitch Perfect 2 continues to exploit its own harmony and run with it to notable success. This time around, we are reacquainted with the Bellas, the renowned, award-winning a capella group led by Becca (Anna Kendrick) and Chloe (Brittany Snow). Following an incident involving the klutzy Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and an unforeseeable wardrobe malfunction in front of President Barack Obama and the First Lady, the Bellas are suspended from competing in any competition. In order to regain their domestic status, the group tries to perform on the international circuit, which has never seen an American a capella group compete in history.
A few years ago, this would’ve been little sweat for the barrage of talented ladies. However, most of the Bellas are graduating this year, quietly forgetting what has kept them together for so long. Moreover, the only one who appears worried about her future is Becca, who has been skipping out on many rehearsals and practices to advance her lowly status at a record company. She dreams of being a music producer, but has to work around her hard-headed (but hilarious) boss (Keegan-Michael Key), leaving the Bellas without a great deal of organization in the meantime. The group also welcomes a new face named Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), who is known for her “legacy” status thanks to her extremely talented mother, who was a Bella during her days at Barden University. This massive competitive undertaking mixed with a serious group identity crisis leaves the Bellas without a lot of options in terms of getting their name back on top.
Before we can appreciate what Pitch Perfect 2 does fairly well, we have to recognize a couple of glaring issues that few seem to be talking about, one of which is the obvious cultural and racial insensitivity on display. There is a Guatemalan character in the film known as Flo (Chrissie Fit), who is a character that is thrown in the Bellas to do nothing other than confirm the common prejudices and stereotypes of Hispanic/South American individuals. Every time she speaks, she attributes some sort of stereotype to her own life, whether it be being kidnapped or having to change her identity and flee the country. The jokes are abrupt tonal shifts from what is otherwise light-hearted fun. In addition, even the blatantly sexist John (John Michael Higgins), one-half of the two announcers in the film who cover the a cappella competitions, has transcended from being simple and effective comic relief to thoroughly mean-spirited and misogynistic. I speak not as an offended viewer, but more as one questioning why many are so quick to just brush off casual racism in comedies when they condemn the same actions in real life (the same question I had when I saw “Get Hard”).
Pitch Perfect 2 is damn lucky to have an exceptional team of cinematographers, sound editors, sound mixers, costume designers, set decorators, and choreographers to assure that questionable humor and mean-spiritedness don’t overtake the project’s inherent charm. Despite all the distractions, one can’t deny the theatrical power of both this film and its sequel. The glitz, glamor, and beautiful decor of the sets and stages are a feast for the eyes, and never does the a capella aspect get lost in the shuffle. These films are both incomparable collections of talent that simultaneously don’t feel like any kind of marketing campaign for a capella organizations, which is a tricky dance to pull off.
The only other time Pitch Perfect 2 sidesteps is when its coolness gets the best of it. Both films have consistently tried to be hip with the characters’ lingo, mannerisms, and actions, and, most of the time, because of how the talented actresses handle it. But it’s silly scenes like Fat Amy “rubbing her confidence (aka sweat)” on Becca that work to derail such added charm. These kinds of scenes work paradoxically to the film, which tries to be more adult and less Disney (it comes with a PG-13 rating that should strongly be noted by parents of kids eleven and younger) most of the time, but can’t help but throw in some element of childishness in the mix.
Nonetheless, first-time feature-film director Elizabeth Banks (who shows up alongside Higgins once again in the film) takes a lofty challenge with Pitch Perfect 2 and succeeds in making it a visual spectacle and something of an emotional one to boot. By the end, we realize how much time we’ve spent with these characters, even if it doesn’t seem like that much, and we recognize their talents and their personalities, and find ourselves falling in love with their attitudes, their singing, and their talent all over again. That’s the beauty of these films, through the occasional bouts of nonsense and ridiculous jokes; these are characters with a great deal of personality encapsulated in a film that has enough of its own to effectively capture it.