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Pitch Perfect 2

Universal // PG-13 // May 15, 2015
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted May 14, 2015 | E-mail the Author
When Pitch Perfect opened in 2012, expectations were low, if not completely non-existent. A $17m comedy about collegiate a capella doesn't exactly scream "blockbuster", yet it grossed nearly $120m worldwide, with another $100m in home video reciepts, becoming Universal's second runaway female-centric comedy smash in a row following 2011's Bridesmaids. If Pitch Perfect's expectations couldn't have been lower, Pitch Perfect 2's expectations couldn't be higher. On top of returning cast members Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, and the rest of the Bellas, the sequel also features a bigger budget, and happens to mark the directorial debut of co-producer / co-star Elizabeth Banks. Sadly, the results are a decidedly mixed bag -- not to mention an unfortunate test subject in the "can one or two jokes sink an otherwise adequate movie?" hypothesis.

First, the good news: although the screenplay by returning writer Kay Cannon makes the mistake of setting the Bellas back to square one in order to see them triumphant again (a wardrobe malfunction in front of President Obama), this regressive tactic only takes up about five minutes of screen time, and is mostly the grounds for a series of news coverage jokes under the opening credits. Even better: scenes from the trailers that clearly mimic some of the original's most popular scenes are actually fine. In particular, a Riff-Off-like competition sequence featuring David Cross as the wealthy host is easily the movie's high point of hilarity, thanks to a series of aca-acrobatics by a number of very funny cameo players. Keegan Michael Key also shines in a supporting role as a music producer that Beca (Kendrick) is interning for, even if some of his back-and-forth interactions with another employee (Shawn Carter Peterson) have a hint of comic desperation to them.

It's also hard not to praise big chunks of Pitch 2 just on principle, because they deliver on the hope that more women behind the camera will result in new perspectives sorely lacking from Hollywood movies. An entire subplot is devoted to Fat Amy (Wilson) and her unexpectedly sincere fling with Bumper Allen (Adam DeVine), former Treblemaker. Their courtship may be brimming with jokes, but none of them are directed at the idea that Bumper could be genuinely interested in Amy, aside from the idea that Bumper has feelings. There's also a scene where Beca helps mentor the Bellas' newest member, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), and I'm not entirely convinced I've ever seen two young women platonically mentoring each other in another movie (plenty of mother / daughter and sister / sister advice-giving, but not this). The entire film is fused with a positive energy, right down to Beca's inability to actually insult the gang's new nemesis, Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sorenson), leader of the German a capella team Das Sound Machine (also featuring YouTube sensation Flula Borg), because she's too tall and gorgeous.

All this just makes it more disappointing when the movie unexpectedly falls back on a handful of casually racist and transphobic jokes, the latter of which are delivered by none other than Banks herself and her associate, John Michael Higgins, as commentators John and Gail. Sure, these characters are supposed to be clueless, but even that doesn't excuse a minute and a half of "ladyboy" jokes (not to mention the fact that they're in a PG-13 comedy aimed at young women). The movie is so focused on lifting up women that the way these gags exclude trans women from that positivity is only emphasized and underlined. Furthermore, the racism comes from a character who isn't as clueless: Flo (Chrissie Fit), another new Bella who frequently references problems in her home country of Mexico. Most of her jokes are okay, landing enough on the "about" side of cultural stereotypes rather than making them the punchline, but a one-liner about deportation is another unfortunate fly in the movie's comedy soup.

On one hand, Pitch Perfect 2 is as uneven as most comedy sequels even before these major missteps are accounted for, but it's hard to deny they really do poison the well, especially given how late in the film most of them appear. Banks also only inspires ambivalence as a director, successfully putting together a competent film and capturing a fair amount of dynamic energy in the stage sequences, yet also focusing so little on the story that the movie hardly has one. Ultimatums are presented at the beginning and essentially forgotten until the finale, and most of the characters other than Beca, Fat Amy, Emily, and Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean) hardly feel like they're in the movie at all (Alexis Knapp's Stacie and Hana Mae Lee's Lilly are only a smidge more present than the two girls, played Kelley Jakle and Shelley Regner, whose non-presence in the movie is literally a running gag). Chloe (Brittany Snow) also registers, but she's been amped up from a cheery cheerleader type to an insecure ditz, which is somewhat unsatisfying. In many ways, this sequel feels like a movie made by a committee -- it's a real shame that the parts that should've been vetoed by a group of people with their thinking caps on are still in it.

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