“The Pitch Is Back.”
So say the promotional materials for Pitch Perfect 2, the sequel to the sleeper hit from 2012 that captivated hearts and voices everywhere. If you missed it, here’s a slight recap: Pitch Perfect featured Anna Kendrick as Beca, an introvert in her first year at fictional Barden University, who breaches her own comfort level to join the campus’ only all-female a cappella group, the Barden Bellas. The Bellas, coming off of a stunning setback at the previous year’s International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA for short) tournament, are stuck in a stagnant rut until Beca, with her brilliant DJ mashup skills, turns them around and makes them into heavyweight contenders for another shot at the ICCA title.
As most sequels go, when you’ve got a formula that works, why fix what ain’t broke? Pitch Perfect 2 follows almost all of the familiar beats and rhythms of the first movie, starting with the vocal interpretation of the Universal Pictures theme music, from the incident in the pre-title sequence that provides the film’s thrust, to watching the Bellas work through growing pains, finding themselves at the bottom of the a cappella food chain with the competitor heavies breathing down their necks, to the glorious ending and the final scene that cuts straight to the first closing credit. However, screenwriter Kay Cannon provides just enough new material to keep us interested, and the finished product is more than enjoyable, funny, and full of the things you loved about the first one.
Three years have passed in the fictional world of Barden University (and in real life between sequels), and we find the Bellas on top of the a cappella world, being three-time ICCA champions and renowned the world over. So what’s the trouble this time? During a Kennedy Center Opera House performance, comic relief Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) experiences the wardrobe malfunction to end all wardrobe malfunctions; it’s a wardrobe malfunction which would’ve made Janet Jackson blush and say, “Damn, that’s nasty, girl.” It is pretty much THE definition of the term “wardrobe malfunction,” leaving the other Bellas onstage with their jaws dropped and cowering in shame. Oh, and by the way, did I mention that this was a televised event with President Obama and his family attending?
Well, there you go. In the parlance of today’s youth, the Bellas are a hot mess – in a montage satirizing the kind of news coverage that a misadventure like this would get, the Bellas are plastered all over the television, thus garnering an indefinite suspension from anything having to do with the ICCA. John Smith (John Michael Higgins) and Gail Abernathy-McKadden-Feinstein (Elizabeth Banks), reprising their dubious positions as both commentators and members of the ICCA governing body, effectively end the Bellas’ existence… unless they win the A Cappella World Championship held in Copenhagen. And that will be a feat in and of itself, considering their main competition, a German group called Das Sound Machine, an unbeatable supergroup with member numbers almost doubling that of the Bellas.
There is no doubt that comparisons will be made to the previous film; I mean, I’ve done it above. However, there’s a theme that’s been running through these two films that gets dispelled a little bit, to my endless thanks: the value of original music versus covering familiar pop music. One scene in an underground riff-off cements this clearly, as Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), a new Bella, gets put on the spot and starts singing one of her original pieces, earning loud harangues from the other competitors, with a participant straight up yelling at her that covers are their life.
The social commentary couldn’t be more clear; all of the televised competitions we’ve been watching since “American Idol” grabbed us by the short and curlies are nothing more than glorified karaoke competitions that seek to homogenize everything about the pop music we listen to, with the Pitch Perfect series satirizing every last ounce of it. Brilliantly, this lack of originality finally gets its due in the form of Emily and a little bit of a comeuppance on Beca’s part, as Beca finds herself in an internship at a record label, the producer (Keegan-Michael Key, playing the best comedic music producer since Sean Combs’ character Sergio from Get Him to the Greek) of which seems to value new voices and material in favor of old, tired stuff.
Pitch Perfect 2 may, at times, also seem full of old, tired stuff; as I said before, a lot of the same comedic beats and rhythms are trotted out here again, with little to differentiate between the two films. Beca’s story follows much the same track, as she has another internship where she has to prove her worth to her boss, and she also has to produce a stunning arrangement for the Bellas’ finale. Same goes for Chloe (Brittany Snow), as she steps into the leadership role that Aubrey (Anna Camp) inhabited in the prior film. The rest of the Bellas, all of whom have returned for this graduation go-round, are still their nutty (Wilson, Hana Mae Lee), comically butch (Ester Dean), sexy (Alexis Knapp), we’ve-literally-been-here-the-whole-time (Shelley Regner, Kelley Jakle) selves, along with another new Bella, Flo (Chrissie Fit), who only seems to be there to spout racially stereotypical jibberjabber.
So… why should we bother? Because, hell, it’s funny. The gags and one-liners that dot the film throughout its entire running time will keep you in stitches; at least the jokes are one thing they didn’t repeat from the first film, and they will have you howling. Music nerds like me, take note: don’t feel ashamed if you’re the only ones laughing at a certain line that Chloe says when she puts something to a vote early in the movie. The characters’ familiar peccadilloes and delivery are what made you love them the first go-round, and you won’t love them less this time.
In closing, a question: being so close in theme and action to the first film, is Pitch Perfect 2 a cover version of Pitch Perfect, thereby being a satire upon satire, thereby being exactly what this movie needed to be? The best cover versions of songs maintain the song’s structure and feeling while imparting a certain degree of one’s own spin on it. Director (and star) Elizabeth Banks keeps the tone set by original director Jason Moore and makes not a carbon copy of the original, but more of a spirited cover version, the restraints of which lie solely with Cannon’s screenplay. Pitch Perfect 2, while not breaking much new ground, gives you more of what you loved about the first film: toe-tapping music, hilarious dialogue, and a ton of laughs.